In 2015, MCP teamed up with the University of Alberta to deploy transmitters throughout the boreal region to understand the migratory connectivity of a variety of species, including the Common Nighthawk (CONI). The Common Nighthawk portion of this project expanded throughout Canada and the United States forming the Common Nighthawk Migratory Connectivity Project, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, the University of Alberta, the Canadian Wildlife Service, Bird Studies Canada, and several other non-profit and academic institutions.
In 2017, we deployed almost 60 Pinpoint Argos-GPS tags (the same deployed in 2015) on ten different populations of Common Nighthawks across North America to achieve two main objectives. First, to describe the migratory connectivity of the Common Nighthawk across the species’ range, and second, to examine environmental correlates of Common Nighthawk population trajectory across the annual cycle. Substantial population declines have been detected in Breeding Bird Survey data, and the species is listed as Threatened in Canada under the federal Species at Risk Act, and is Endangered or Threatened in several of the northeastern United States.
The Pinpoint tags have been tested on Common Nighthawks in northern Alberta with great success; we retrieved data from 7 of 10 tags deployed in 2015 and we are also getting great data from the tags deployed in 2017, including wintering locations for about 30 birds.
One of the areas within the range with the steepest population declines is the southwestern United States, so in June 2018 we decided to deploy 8 more transmitters in the Flagstaff, Arizona area. Here, Elly Knight, PhD student at University of Alberta and coordinator of the CONI MCP, and myself teamed up with Jeff Foster, a professor at Northern Arizona University (NAU). Unfortunately this is an extremely dry summer for Flagstaff and all of the potential capture sites were either completely dry or closed due to fire danger so we had to come up with another plan.
We had one more lead of Common Nighthawks spotted at a pond in the parking lot of a local casino, so Elly and I headed out to Twin Arrows Casino.
After gaining approval from the management staff of the casino, we prepared to capture at the pond in the parking lot. We hit the JACKPOT! The combination of this being the only water source for miles with the attraction of insects to the parking lot lights, led to a plethora of Common Nighthawks.
In the end, we captured 26 birds and deployed all 8 tags.
We also captured many different species of bats with assistance from Clarissa, a PhD student at NAU studying bats.
Thank you to Jeff and his family, Clarissa, and my mom Jackie for assisting Elly and I with fieldwork. Stay tuned for updates about the Common Nighthawks we captured.