The common nighthawk that was detected by the Vero Beach Motus tower is tagged and measured in a Canadian lab. Photo courtesy of Elora Grahame
By Ken Warren, South Florida Ecological Services Office
About 25 days after it was captured and tagged, a common nighthawk migrating from Canada became the first bird detected by a new tracking tower on top of Vero Beach High School in Florida on August 29.
Thanks to the efforts of South Florida Ecological Services Office Supervisory Biologist Tim Breen, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service donated the Motus tower to the School District of Indian River County.
The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a coordinated system of automated receiver stations, or towers, used to track migratory animals, primarily birds and bats, through terrestrial and coastal environments. The network has more than 350 towers that are currently active across the Western Hemisphere. The tower at Vero Beach High School fills a gap in data collection along the east coast of Florida.
The Motus tower is mounted on top of Vero Beach High School by electronics technician Steve Alfano. Photo courtesy of the School District of Indian River County
Robert Michael, of the School District of Indian River County, says: “We think this is great. When Tim (Breen) approached me about installing the antenna and using it for the students to be able to track the birds and learn, we were pretty excited."
This particular nighthawk was captured and tagged on August 4, 2019 in Ontario, Canada, by Elora Grahame, a Ph.D. student from the University of Guelph in Ontario. The nighthawk is an adult male, at least two years old and part of the breeding population at Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve in Muskoka Lakes, Ontario.
“My Ph.D. research focuses on movement ecology for both common nighthawks and eastern whip-poor-wills,” says Grahame. “They’re both secretive species and relatively understudied. I’m researching their breeding ecology and habitat requirements for successful reproduction and migration in order to improve conservation management strategies.”
Grahame says she originally caught this nighthawk at her study site in Ontario in summer 2018. She banded him that year, but unfortunately he didn’t get a tag. This year she was lucky enough to re-capture and tag him.
The Motus system allows Grahame and other researchers to look at factors that influence timing of migration such as weather, wind, temperature, age, sex, etc.
“I had several nighthawks detected in Panama and Colombia last year so it will be exciting to see if this bird gets detected down there this year!” says Grahame. “Based on what we know about the species wintering grounds, he is probably headed for Brazil, maybe northern Argentina.”
Supervisory Biologist Tim Breen tells school board members, teachers, students and parents about the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Photo by Ken Warren/USFWS
Breen is confident that the Motus tower in Vero Beach will be a great educational tool for students and wildlife enthusiasts alike. “I’m looking forward to coordinating with the school district on developing an educational program based on migration data collected by our very own Motus station,” says Breen.