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A man wearing a safety harness installs a large antenna on the roof of a school.
Information icon 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.

Canadian nighthawk is first bird detected by Vero Beach Motus tower

A brown, yelow and white bird with a snall beak and dark eyes.
The common nighthawk that was detected by the Vero Beach Motus tower is tagged and measured in a Canadian lab. Photo courtesy of Dr. Elora Grahame.

Approximately 25 days after it was captured and tagged, a common nighthawk migrating from Canada became the first bird detected by the Motus tower on top of Vero Beach High School on Aug. 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 (“motus” is Latin for “movement”) 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 over 350 towers active in the Western Hemisphere. The tower at Vero Beach High School fills a gap in data collection along the east coast of Florida.

This particular nighthawk was captured and tagged on Aug. 4, 2019 in Ontario, Canada, by Elora Grahame, a Ph.D. student from the University of Guelph. The nighthawk, an adult male, is 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,” said 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, and sex.

“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!” said Grahame. “Based on what we know about the species wintering grounds, he is probably headed for Brazil, maybe northern Argentina.”

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,” said Breen.


Ken Warren, public affairs specialist, (772) 778-5498

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