FLORENCE – The Nighthawk’s call signals the start of summer in Montana and a new study taking place in the Bitterroot trying aims to learn more about the nocturnal bird.
Very little is known about Montana’s nocturnal birds like this Nighthawk, but as most Montanans will recognize their distinctive summer evening call and it’s important to know more about them.
“A lot of these species are considered to be of management concern or in decline. And one of the thoughts of why Nighthawks and other insectivores are in decline is because of pesticides or declines in their prey base. So this is one way to figure out what they eat,” said Kate Stone with MPG Ranch.
Researchers are trying to develop a DNA marker for bird droppings to find out what these birds eat so that in the future biologists could collect bird poop and tell what insects have been eaten.
“No one has studied — like in Montana — nocturnal bugs. Do we know what’s out here? A lot of our birds are eating them all the time,” Stone said.
Developing advanced monitoring methods, like this DNA marker, will allow wildlife managers to better conserve Montana’s nighttime birds in the future.
“If this is a method that could work it could be done passively on anything. So, we wouldn’t have to kill anything, and, in some cases, you wouldn’t have to capture and handle a bird in order to know what it was eating — or not even a bird for that matter,” Stone explained.
Researchers hope to have results of the study completed in a few years.
Reporting by Winston Greeley for Montana FWP