Swift Care Ontario, located in Komoka, is a wildlife rehabilitation center that specializes in Species At Risk with Chimney Swifts, Bank Swallows, Barn Swallows, Common Nighthawks, and Eastern Whip-poor-wills being their main focus. Licensed by both the the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Canadian Wildlife Service, they are a nonprofit organization that rescue and rehabilitate these beautiful birds in an effort to preserve their declining numbers.
Common Nighthawks feed almost exclusively on insects and are beginning their 5000km migration to South America, where they will spend the winter. These birds roost during the day on tree branches, fence posts or on the ground. Their incredible camouflage and motionless behaviour make daytime sightings nearly impossible. Your best chance to observe a Common Nighthawk is at dusk or dawn when they are most active, circling the skies feeding on flying insects.
I was recently contacted by Swift Care Ontario asking if I knew of any local areas that still had Common Nighthawks present. A young, fully grown Common Nighthawk they had raised this year was ready for release and they were looking for an optimal release site where other Common Nighthawks were present. I was happy to provide Swift Care Ontario with a location where I was still observing Common Nighthawks actively feeding at dusk as a potential release site.
Words cannot even begin to describe my excitement when I was once again contacted by Swift Care Ontario and asked if I would accompany them on the release to show them the exact location. Having never seen one of these birds close up and to witness one of these incredible Species At Risk being released into the wild, I knew this was going to be an amazing experience. When I spoke with Debbie from Swift Care Ontario on the phone, she asked if I could meet her on Friday August 29 at 11am for the release. She would need to feed the Common Nighthawk every hour, beginning at 6am the morning of the release, in order for it to be properly nourished. She felt that a late morning release would provide enough feedings. I graciously accepted and still couldn’t believe that I had been invited to the release. I have to admit, I felt a little bit like a child again on Christmas Eve that Thursday evening, as my excitement kept me awake most of the night.
The Common Nighthawk was transported to the selected release site in a special container which provided ventilation and the soft mesh material prevented any wing or feather damage in transit. A soft blanket was placed over the container to keep the bird calm. Debbie scouted the site and I answered her questions about the area. Her knowledge of birds is incredible and I could really sense her passion and genuine love for what she does. I pointed to the specific area I thought would make an ideal release location. As we walked closer, Debbie described the preferred habitat of the Common Nighthawk. Hearing this, I was feeling more and more confident of the location. Debbie wanted to place the bird on a fallen log with the intent of it sitting there for several hours while it got its bearings. She was confident that the young bird would hear the other Common Nighthawks calling at dusk as they emerged to feed, and join the group. I mentioned to her that there were some logs under a Willow tree just on the edge of the wooded area that was surrounded by mixed meadow, consisting of tall grasses, Goldenrod, and Milkweed. I was delighted to hear Debbie describe the location as “perfect”.
Debbie opened the container and gently picked up the Common Nighthawk. I photographed this beautiful bird as it watched intently from her hands. The colour pattern and camouflage was simply amazing. It is no wonder these birds are seldom seen when roosting. The bird was then placed on one of the fallen logs where it sat quite content while looking around. I must say, I was expecting the bird to immediately fly up into the trees to roost, but it was comfortable down on the log surveying the area and Debbie informed me this was normal behaviour when releasing this species. After several minutes, the bird fluttered, briefly hovered, then set down on the forest floor next to the fallen logs amongst the various ground cover. It was here that the incredible camouflage was once again displayed. This is when we walked away, leaving the bird to begin it’s journey in the wild.
As I mentioned, Swift Care Ontario is a nonprofit organization. Carolyn and Debbie are the two primary caregivers and neither one takes home a paycheque. They simply do it for their love of birds. Many of the birds they rehabilitate require feeding every hour, 14-16 hours a day. The time, effort and dedication these women put into ensuring the future of these Species At Risk is phenomenal. Wildlife rehabilitation centers in Ontario do not receive funding from the government and operate solely on private donations. These birds require a special diet, and many of the injured and abandoned birds received are malnourished, so vitamin supplements and probiotics are given. With veterinary costs, travel, proper enclosures, and supplies, the operating costs incurred by Swift Care Ontario are quite large. If you love birds as much as I do and wish to continue observing these Species At Risk, please consider making a donation. No amount is too small, as it all adds up. To keep up to date with Swift Care Ontario’s latest patients and releases, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or visit their website. Donations can easily be made by clicking here.