First full annual cycle tracking of a declining aerial insectivorous bird, the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), identifies migration routes, nonbreeding habitat, and breeding site fidelity

  • March 3, 2018
  • by Ng, Knight, Scarpignato, Harrison, Bayne, Marra

Over one third of North American bird species are in decline, and for many species, we still lack fundamental biogeographic information such as migration routes and nonbreeding areas. Identifying causes of declines is limited because tracking many species throughout their annual cycle with high precision and accuracy is challenging. Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor (J.R. Forster, 1771)) have declined throughout much of their range and have yet to have their migratory and nonbreeding areas identified and characterized. We tracked Common Nighthawks by deploying a new 3.5 g Pinpoint GPS-Argos tag on adult males. Seven of 10 (70%) tags uploaded locations, providing the first data on migration, nonbreeding habitat, and annual site fidelity to breeding areas. Birds used similar loop migration routes and overwintered in Brazil’s Cerrado and Amazon regions. Nonbreeding season roosting home ranges were 148.22 ± 121 ha (mean ± SE) and included forest, grassland, and cropland. Breeding home-range fidelity was high; all tracked birds returned to within 1.27 ± 0.27 km of original capture locations. Our study is the first tracking of Common Nighthawks throughout their full annual cycle. Continued miniaturization of tracking technology, like the GPS-Argos transmitters used, is critical for identifying the causes of population declines of previously enigmatic migratory species.