Protecting Common Nighthawk habitat in New York state’s urban areas
In his 14-year tenure as Director of Operations for Audubon’s New York State program, Rich Merritt has taken the lead on a multitude of conservation programs, including erecting Chimney Swift towers in state parks, coordinating Winter Raptor Surveys at the Fort Edward IBA, and conducting field surveys for Mountain Birdwatch in the high peaks of the Adirondacks. Additionally, his leadership has been pivotal to the restoration of more than 15 acres of native trees and plants in critical wading bird habitat on the East River as well as the removal of phragmites (an often invasive perennial grass) from Hudson River saltmarsh at Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary.
For Rich’s Fellowship project, he is eager to not build on the work listed above, but plans to challenge himself in order to achieve even greater conservation results. “This is an entirely new initiative for me and Audubon, yet is still very much aligned with our priorities.”
This wide-ranging project is an effort to protect Common Nighthawk habitat in the greater Albany Metropolitan Area (Albany-Schenectady-Troy). The species has been identified by Audubon's strategic plan as one of its critical Species of Conservation Need. While much of its habitat is in forest openings and wet areas, secondary habitat (as with the Chimney Swift and Peregrine Falcon) is in urban areas, specifically gravel rooftops. The project will involve partnering with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to set up speaker systems on promising roof areas to “call in” prospective breeding birds.
To accomplish this, Rich will work with more than 100 elementary-school students and their teachers in the Albany-Troy-Schenectady area. Together, they will identify rooftops—which are often excellent Nighthawk nesting grounds—and persuade facility managers and landlords not to perform invasive maintenance on their rooftops during the Nighthawk breeding season. Eventually, a ‘Nighthawk Friendly Certification’ will be provided by the students.
Rich hopes is that the project will both entice successful breeding of Nighthawks in protected habitats as well as create a replicable model that can be used elsewhere. “If breeding pairs of Nighthawks respond favorably to any of the noise protocols, that information can be used to help secure Nighthawk habitat elsewhere, even internationally!”