The WildResearch Nightjar Survey is a citizen science survey program that collects baseline data for an understudied group of birds of conservation concern, the nightjars. The nocturnal habits of nightjars exclude them from detection on other survey programs, but available evidence suggests their populations are declining. Under the WildResearch Nightjar Survey, volunteers in many areas of the country conduct nocturnal roadside surveys for nightjars to contribute to a publicly-available dataset.
Why Survey for Nightjars?
Nightjars are a family of cryptic birds that forage for flying insects at night. Many of these species are highly migratory, spending their winters as far south as Argentina. These beautiful birds have long pointed wings for flight, and are highly camouflaged because they roost during the day.
The need to conduct surveys for nightjars in Canada has been identified for several reasons:
- Relatively little is known about them due to their nocturnal habits
- Two of our species, the Common Nighthawk and the Eastern Whip-poor-will, are already listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act
- Nightjars belong to a larger guild of birds, the aerial insectivores, which are thought to be declining across North America
Three Species of Nightjars in Canada
1. Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)
- Breeds across North and Central America. Canada’s grasslands and boreal forests are thought to support high population densities.
- Requires open habitat for foraging, roosting, and nesting such as grassland, clearcuts, sandy areas, rocky bluffs, and open forests
- Listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act due to significant population declines across Canada, but reasons for declines are unknown
- One of the last migratory breeders to arrive: present in Canada from late May/early June to early September
- Crepuscular feeder: most active at dawn and dusk
- Cool fact: male Common Nighthawks make a mechanical wing-boom sound during breeding display dives
2. Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptiuls nuttallii)
- Breeds in western North America, with populations in southern British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan
- Found in semi-arid, open habitats such as rocky bunchgrass hillsides, and open forests
- One of the least understood of North American birds due to their completely nocturnal habitats
- Population trends are completely unknown: classified as Data Deficient by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
- Present in Canada from early May to mid September
- Cool fact: the Common Poorwill can enter torpor for weeks at a time to conserve energy
Adult Common Poorwill
3. Eastern Whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus vociferus)
Details and true facts about the Eastern Whip-poor-will coming soon!
Nightjar Survey Objectives
The overarching goal of the WildResearch Nightjar Survey is to contribute to conservation of nightjar species in Canada. We have defined several multi-species objectives and one single-species objective per species in order to achieve this goal.
- Collect baseline inventory data on nightjar populations in Canada
- Determine best survey methods for nightjars in Canada and compare to other existing monitoring programs (e.g., Breeding Bird Survey)
- Raise awareness on nightjar conservation and biology in Canada
- Common Nighthawk: investigate habitat associations in Canada
- Common Poorwill: determine the extent of the range in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan
- Easter Whip-poor-will: survey this historic range in Saskatchewan to confirm a range contraction
Help us conserve nightjars!
WildResearch needs volunteers to conduct nightjar surveys to help us understand and conserve these two unique species! To volunteer or for more information about the WildResearch Nightjar Survey, contact your Regional Coordinator.
Grassland and open forest habitat used by Common Nighthawks and Common Poorwills in south central BC