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Where do nighthawks spend the winter?


Cara J
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Common nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) have declined about 80 percent since 1968, but researchers hadn’t yet known where they go for the winter — information that could be important in understanding what’s causing their decline. “It’s generally known that they spend their winters somewhere in South America,” said Janet Ng, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta and the lead author of the paper published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology. “We never came across where that knowledge came from.” Ng suspects these were just observations. To answer the question scientifically, a team including collaborators from the University of Alberta and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Research Center’s Migratory Connectivity Project set out to discover where the aerial insectivore overwinters and the route that the threatened bird takes. But first, they had to overcome a few hurdles. Before 2015, satellite transmitters were about the size of a person’s palm and weighed too much to fit on a 90-gram nighthawk. But new tiny satellite tracking technology weighing about as much as a penny allowed researchers to remotely track the birds on their migration and wintering grounds without having to recapture them. Capturing the birds was also a feat. Nighthawks have superb eyesight [...]

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