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Eastern Whip-poor-wills Incubating Eggs

It is so easy to be unaware of the mysteries and the magic of the natural world.  Who would have guessed that Eastern Whip-poor-wills (Antrostomus vociferus) time their egg-laying with the phases of the moon, but research confirms that they do, and for a very good reason.

Whip-poor-wills are insectivores, favoring large moths in particular, and feed on them at dusk and at dawn when there’s light enough to see them.  A full moon extends the amount of hours that are light enough for foraging to take place.  Whip-poor-will chicks that are born ten days before a full moon will be at their hungriest at a time when the moon is full and moonlight provides the maximum number of hours for foraging.  Ten days plus roughly 20 days of egg incubation means that Whip-poor-wills are most likely sitting on eggs that will hatch next week, a little over a week before the next full moon (June 3rd).

Unfortunately, Eastern Whip-poor-wills are in decline. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates that there has been a 69% drop in populations between 1966 and 2010. The exact reasons for this drop are still being determined, but it appears that the decline of moths is partially responsible. If interested in contributing to research on this subject, you can join the citizen-science project (United States Nightjar Survey Network) based at the college of William & Mary. (Print by John James Audubon)

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Common Nighthawks Migrating

8-28-14 common nighthawk_w725_h486Nightjars, or “goatsuckers” as some call them, are a family of birds that catch and eat insects on the wing, are often ground nesters, and many (whip-poor-will, for instance) have distinctive calls. Nighthawks are a member of this group, but not a very well-named member, as they are unrelated to hawks and are active at dawn and dusk (not night). This insect-eating bird is often seen on the wing, hawking insects in both rural and urban areas (Fenway Park comes to mind). Its loud, nasal “peent” calls and bat-like flight make this bird very noticeable if it is feeding. We are currently at the peak of the fall Common Nighthawk migration from North to South America. Flocks of hundreds and sometimes thousands are seen flying overhead, often in the early evening.

Unfortunately, in the past 30 years the breeding population of Common Nighthawks in Vermont has declined by 91%, according to the most recent Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas, and this drop in population is not limited to Vermont – much of Canada, New England and beyond has experienced a 50% – 70% decline. Increased predation, indiscriminate use of pesticides leading to lowered insect numbers and habitat loss may have played a part in this drop. (Photo from public domain.)

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