Date: 8/25/17 6:11 am
From: Bill Whan <billwhan...>
Subject: [Ohio-birds] Losses of insect prey in the city?
I've lived in the same urban neighborhood for 35 years, and reminiscence
urges some questions. One of the regular spectacles has been the fall
movements of nighthawks. These birds move north in spring, but in small
numbers and often at a high altitude; in the fall, much larger numbers
sweep south. If I look back twenty years or so, I can recall autumnal
scrambles up on the roof of the house to wade in a river of nighthawks
this time of year. The river of this area is half a mile downhill here,
and it and the insects it attracts have been flowing south at this time
for centuries.
Night before last I finally spotted a single nighthawk in its jerky
progress soaring south overhead. Not as in the old days, and I wonder
why. I know that nightjars are diminishing in numbers, but the losses
here in town have been catastrophic. I wonder if nighthawks are no
longer finding enough food in urban settings. I used to walk down to a
school parking lot to see locally nesting nighthawks close up at
parking-lot lights, or see lots of them over the buggy lighted ball-
fields in summer and especially in fall. Now, not so much.
I acknowledge the continent-wide diminution of nighthawk populations,
but their precipitous losses in the city make me wonder if the loss of
insect prey is partly to blame. I have six trees at least a foot in
diameter, and flowering mostly native plants, but they seem to attract
fewer insects by the year. Even flies, I'm glad to report, but moths and
butterflies and bees just aren't around as much anymore. I imagine lots
of birders in the city share my experience, but I wonder if losses of
tasty insects are keeping nighthawks out of the urban scene, and we are
stuck with apparently indigestible house sparrows...
Bill Whan
Columbus

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