Maine’s moonlit summer nights are becoming increasingly silent with the disappearance of the state’s resident nightjars. What are nightjars?, you might ask. They are a family of birds formally classified as “goatsuckers” that eat insects (not goat’s milk) and sing on moonlit nights.

In Maine, these birds include the Eastern whip-poor-will and the common nighthawk. Once widespread and commonly heard, these birds have begun to vanish from their annual haunts in eastern North America. Anecdotal reports suggest declines are underway in Maine as well. The causes for these declines are not well-established and may be the culmination of a number of factors including habitat alteration, declining numbers of insects, and predation.

In addition to being active only at twilight and at night, these birds are highly camouflaged to blend into their daytime roosts on the ground, branches or tree stumps. This nocturnal nature and ability to blend into the landscape makes these birds tough to study. Fortunately, both birds are vociferous on spring and summer nights. Whip-poor-wills sing otamotopoeic songs on moonlit nights while the nighthawks dart about giving “peent” calls through the evening skies. Nighthawks also perform courtship dives ending in a “boom” as air rushes through its feathers.

Volunteers are needed to listen for these night sounds along predetermined monitoring routes in nightjar habitat throughout the state. The information gathered by this project can give us a better sense of population trends and the distribution of these birds which can be used, in turn, to inform their conservation.

For the contribution of a couple hours on one to two nights each summer, you can listen for these and other fascinating birds while also contributing to conservation. If you are interested in taking part and adopting a route, contact me, assistant ecologist Logan Parker, at [email protected].

 

Logan Parker

Palermo

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