Common nighthawk: Species at Risk recovery

Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

In the past, on a typical Canadian summer camping trip, you would sit around the campfire at dusk and see the common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) diving through the air, hunting for insects.

Unfortunately, today you are less likely to spot one of these birds. Learn about how Parks Canada is helping this threatened species and find out how you can contribute.

Three reasons to love the common nighthawk:

1. It’s vulnerable
Photo: Pippi Lawn

Across Canada, common nighthawk numbers are declining. These birds are finding fewer undeveloped areas where they can nest undisturbed on the ground. Off-leash dogs and foot traffic can easily disturb them. Household cats prey on the chicks. Scientists also suspect pesticides may be reducing their food supply.

2. It’s a superstar

Don’t let its plain brown exterior or medium size fool you. There’s nothing ordinary about the common nighthawk. It’s a long-haul trucker, flying thousands of kilometres each year, back and forth between North and South America. It makes one of the longest north-south migrations of any bird species in North America.

3. It possesses magical powers
Photo: Iain Robert Reid

You’re most likely to spot the common nighthawk in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve at dawn or dusk. When the sun paints the sky with beautiful colours, this bird comes out to hunt.

You’ll hear a sharp “pweet-pweet” when it’s high in the sky. And then a mysterious “bruum” as the air rushes through its wing feathers when it reaches the bottom of its display dive. 

Well, maybe it’s not magic, but moments like these make lasting memories.

Three ways to care for the common nighthawk:

1. Respect its privacy

You might have heard the saying that good fences make good neighbours. This is especially true with the common nighthawk. The more we leave this ground-nesting bird alone and keep on our side of the fence, the happier it will be. You or your dog could easily step on the eggs or disturb the camouflaged young.

Parks Canada’s action:
When Gulf Islands National Park Reserve was established, planners and scientists decided that the common nighthawk nesting area on Sidney Island needed to be a restricted-access area, for wildlife only. 
Action you can take:

For the most part, you won’t find physical fences in park reserve that restrict areas to wildlife only. You will need to check the map and look for posted signs. 

2. Support scientific data
Photo: Iain Robert Reid

To protect something, you need science-based facts to support you. Responsible wildlife management decisions are based on scientific observations and analysis. 

Parks Canada’s action:

Once every nesting season, Parks Canada scientists enter the wildlife-only zone at Sidney Island to check on the common nighthawks. They tread slowly and carefully, skirting the edges of the vegetation, searching in the bare spots for nests.

When they find a nest, they take a photo and record its position with a GPS. Scientists then compare the number of nests and their locations to previous years.

Action you can take:

Keep your dog on a leash at all times while you visit Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. You may be able to read the signs and maps that show the boundaries of wildlife-only areas, but your dog can not.

3. Be bug friendly

Flying bug-eaters like the common nighthawk depend on a steady diet of insects to survive. Sadly, insect populations are dropping worldwide. It’s time to become friendlier to bugs.

Parks Canada’s action:
By protecting large wild areas, Parks Canada contributes not only to available nesting places for common nighthawks, but also to the overall abundance and diversity of nature, including bugs. 
Action you can take:
Eat fruits and veggies before they spoil, reducing the amount of farming and pesticides needed to feed you. Or choose organic produce that isn’t sprayed with pesticides. 

Learn more about the common nighthawk and Species at Risk recovery

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