June Moon

nighthawk-1

In June this year, the full moon is on Friday the 13th. I expect the police and social workers in major cities are bracing for some, er, strange activities from the usual suspects.

But the full moon in June is also prime time for seeing or hearing some wildlife; one being the whip-poor-will. The whip-poor-will, a close relative to the nighthawk (pictured here) tends to peak it’s calling intensity during the June full moon (right around dusk). Like many of the so-called Goatsuckers, a term coined in Europe for members of this order of birds because they were believed to subsist by milking goats, populations of whip-poor-wills, nighthawks and swifts are mostly on the decline.

No one really knows why, although chimney swifts don’t have near as much nesting habitat – big chimneys in big buildings – as they used to. It’s simply a function of what’s happened as society has switched from burning wood and coal for heat to more efficient modes of energy. Habitat changes could also be significant for whip-poor-wills and nighthawks and others in the Order. Over the past few decades, there has been considerable aging of the forest at the landscape level as well as loss of small woodlots in agricultural areas. Whip-poor-wills, for example, like mixed-wood forests where there are numerous small openings. They don’t like solid closed in woodlands, nor open agricultural areas that are prairie-like. Nighthawks can thrive in urban and natural areas. All goatsuckers feed on insects while flying.

I doubt population declines of these species mean they are headed to extinction. These days, every time a population does decline, that seems to be the cry, I think it’s unreasonable to think population decline is inherently a bad thing. Often, it’s just the response to environmental change, which is an on-going process. What is needed is more monitoring, research and understanding of population dynamics of a whole host of species.

On the other hand, wide-spread use of insecticides almost everywhere can’t be a good thing for species that depend on insects for survival. Maybe that’s the crux of the problem.

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