What are Nightjars?

Nightjars are a family of birds that forage for flying insects at night. Nightjars are found across Canada, with the exception of Newfoundland and the far north. They arrive later than most migratory bird species, showing up each year in late May and early June. During the summer, nightjars breed across Canada, laying two eggs directly on the ground with no nest.

The only nightjar species found in Wood Buffalo National Park is the Common Nighthawk. Common Nighthawks are listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act. They are generally found in open-area habitat such as grasslands, clearcuts, burn areas, sandy areas, peatlands, rocky bluffs, open forests, and even in urban areas. Males are thought to defend territories for mating and nesting, but will forage and roost outside those territories up to several kilometres away. Like all living creatures in the park, Common Nighthawks benefit from the protection of nocturnal conditions within their habitat under Wood Buffalo National Park’s designation as a Dark Sky Preserve.

Why Monitor Nightjars?

Due to their nocturnal habits, nightjars are understudied, but there is concern about their declining populations. Information on nightjar distribution, abundance, habitat associations, and population trends is important for conservation and management efforts. Wood Buffalo National Park participates in the Canadian Nightjar Survey, a citizen science monitoring program intended to help increase understanding of nightjar species in Canada.

Nighthawk Monitoring in Wood Buffalo National Park

In Wood Buffalo National Park, resource conservation staff conduct a Common Nighthawk Survey annually in early July using the methodology outlined in the Canadian Nightjar Survey Protocol. The survey is conducted along a transect starting 30 minutes before sunset. Participants listen for and count the number of Common Nighthawks at twelve points along the transect. They do this by listening for nighthawk calls for six minutes at each point, and then recording the number of birds heard.

Data from the Wood Buffalo National Park surveys is submitted to the Canadian Nightjar Survey database, which helps scientists and researchers expand their understanding of Common Nighthawks across the country.

How Can I Help?

Why not participate as a Citizen Scientist? If you are interested in helping with the Common Nighthawk surveys in Wood Buffalo National Park, contact:

Sharon Irwin
Resource Management Officer
Wood Buffalo National Park
Ph. 867-872-7948
E-mail: Sharon.Irwin2@canada.ca