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Friday, May 6, 2011

Day of the Nighthawk

The North Branch Nature Center’s Youth Birding Program has partnered with middle school students in central Vermont to revitalize the nesting habitat of the Common Nighthawk. Once a common sight to people in Vermont cities, nighthawks used to swoop and dive across the sky at dusk, collecting insects as they went. Their preference to nest in large, open spaces may once have precluded Vermont from possible breeding locations, but since at least the late 1800’s Common Nighthawks have made use of gravel rooftops to raise their young.

Unfortunately, the Common Nighthawk is in steep decline throughout its breeding range and has not been seen breeding in Montpelier in recent years. One cause of their decline is loss of habitat: both natural and artificial. Conversion of gravel rooftops to other substrates is believed to be one cause for their disappearance from urban areas. In 2007, New Hampshire Audubon began a research initiative to install gravel “nest patches” on rooftops in order to create the Nighthawk’s preferred gravel nesting sites. Students from U-32 Middle/High School (Montpelier) and Crossett Brook Middle School (Waterbury), in partnership with North Branch Nature Center, will replicate the efforts of NH Audubon by installing Vermont’s first nest patches.

Yesterday, U-32 students installed a nest patch on their school’s roof, and will monitor this patch over the next few weeks. As Nighthawks return from their winter in South America and establish nesting sites in New England, we’ll be watching to see if our nest patch is used by a lucky Nighthawk family. Photos from the installation will be coming soon...

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