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Nighthawk expert to speak to Winona Bird Club

March 1, 2019

Gretchen Newberry, science writer and biologist, will present her research on the common nighthawk, a mysterious crepuscular bird on the decline in the Midwest at the March meeting of the Winona Bird Club.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 6 at the Winona Friendship Center, 251 Main St. The event is free and open to the public.

Newberry will detail birding tips for finding this elusive bird, stories from the field and the challenges nighthawks face, including prairie, riparian and urban habitat loss, urban predators, and climate change. This generalist species has many advantages that may enable it to survive the Anthropocene’s gauntlet of pressures, and her talk will present a number of ways we can help nighthawks survive.

Common nighthawks were numerous in Winona only 20 years ago, according to bird club president Richie Swanson. They nested on rooftops of large buildings. Their dramatic courtship flights and booming sounds — made by air rushing across wingtips — were conspicuous in town, above the river and lakes. They used to dominate summer skies at dawn and dusk and would swarm around streetlights, hunting insects. Nighthawks have virtually disappeared from Winona in recent years. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates a decline of more than 60 percent since 1966.

Newberry is a Minnesota native with family roots in Wisconsin. She has a doctorate in biology from University of South Dakota, where she studied common nighthawks. In addition, she has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife science from Oregon State University and a bachelor’s degree in journalism and anthropology from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her interest in the worldwide aerial insectivore decline led her to write a series of blog posts on white nose syndrome in bats during her graduate studies and work on a behavioral ecology study of tree swallows and violet-green swallows in Oregon.

Newberry has co-authored science essential to the common nighthawk’s survival: rooftop nesting, ecology and use of agricultural landscape, genetic structure, land-use impacts, and the species’ relationship to insects, pesticides and habitat loss.