Incorporating weather in counts and trends of migrating Common Nighthawks

Stephen R. Kolbe, Gerald J. Niemi, Annie M. Bracey, Matthew A. Etterson, Alexis R. Grinde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Effective conservation planning for species of concern requires long-term monitoring data that can accurately estimate population trends. Supplemental or alternative methods for estimating population trends are necessary for species that are poorly sampled by traditional breeding bird survey methods. Counts of migrating birds are commonly used to assess raptor population trends and could be useful for additional taxa that migrate diurnally and are difficult to monitor during the breeding season. In North America, the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is challenging to detect during comprehensive dawn surveys like the North American Breeding Bird Survey and is considered a species of conservation concern because of steep population declines across its range. We conducted standardized evening counts of migrating Common Nighthawks at a fixed survey location along western Lake Superior each autumn from 2008 to 2022. To document peak migration activity, counts spanned ~3 hours each evening from mid-August to early September for a mean of 19.4 ± 2.4 days. These count data were then used to assess the effects of weather on daily counts and high-count days and to calculate population trends over this 15-year period. We used generalized linear mixed effects models to determine the relationship between daily counts and high-count days (i.e., ≥1000 migrating nighthawks) and weather variables. Additionally, using our 15-year dataset, we calculated a geometric mean passage rate that accounted for annual differences in weather to estimate count trends. Annual counts averaged ~18,000 (min = 2514, max = 32,837) individuals and high-count days occurred 56 times throughout the course of the study. Model results indicated lighter, westerly winds and warmer temperatures were associated with higher daily counts and greater probability of a large migratory flight. Results from the trend analyses suggest stable or non-significantly increasing trends for Common Nighthawks during this monitoring period; however, the trend models explained a relatively low percentage of the variation in the counts. Results from a power analysis suggest that continued monitoring efforts and adjustments with weather covariates will be necessary to effectively use visible migration count data to estimate Common Nighthawk trends. Establishing annual monitoring programs that use standardized visual counts to document Common Nighthawk migration at key sites across North America may provide supplemental information useful for population trend estimates of this species. Therefore, we advocate for the use of visible migration counts to monitor Common Nighthawks in North America and emphasize the value of long-term monitoring efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9
JournalAvian Conservation and Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 by the author(s). Published here under license by the Resilience Alliance. Open Access. CC-BY 4.0.


  • aerial insectivore
  • migration
  • monitoring
  • population trends
  • weather


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