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Sitting in my apartment with the window open this evening, I can hear 
nighthawks flying around peenting and foraging.  Not usually 
noteworthy, but the steady rain pouring down makes me believe they are 
pretty desperate. They've been at it for the past hour.  I'm sure it's 
not the first time it's happened this year, but it's the first time 
I've noticed it.

This cool, wet weather cannot be good for insectivorous birds and their 
newly hatched young.  From what I understand, even most birds that are 
not primarily insectivorous (such as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird) 
depends on lots of insects to feed their young at this time of year 
because the newly hatched birds need a protein-rich diet.

My favorite bird, and thus the species of bird I keep in mind the most, 
is the Greater Prairie-Chicken. This is the type of weather that can 
wreak havoc on newly hatched broods.  While adults are primarily 
vegetarian for most of the year, young prairie-chickens eat almost 
exclusively insects, and must begin feeding themselves the day they 
hatch.  

While there are other reasons I think their numbers will continue to 
decline here, this kind of weather anomaly--though it is no big deal 
when/where numbers are sufficient to repopulate in a good weather year, 
like we seemingly had last year--can be absolutely disastrous in 
smaller populations of prairie chickens (like  all of MO's are now).  
According to Charles Schwartz in his study of prairie chickens 
published in the 40's, the last week of May and the first week of June 
are when most prairie chicken broods hatch in Missouri. He mentions 
extended cool, wet weather as a big threat to very young birds. I 
imagine that the usually high mortality rates among young will be 
astronomical this year.  Northern Missouri and southwest Missouri (I'm 
currently watching on radar as a huge thunderstorm heads toward Prairie 
State Park, Taberville, etc.) seem to have both seen lots of this 
unfavorable weather, especially during times suitable for foraging.  
More days than not have seen wet weather, and the type of warm, gentle 
days that are really optimal have been virtually nonexistent from these 
parts. Combine it with a continuing pattern of degraded and fragmented 
habitat outside of managed areas, and, well, the results may very well 
show next spring on the booming grounds.  If I were a betting man, I'd 
say they will.

Like many other birders, I tend to take the months of June/July easy.  
Most breeders are already on the list, and the heat/lack of migrants 
act as a dissuading force. 

As I listen to the nighthawks, still foraging away outside, I'm 
reminded that birds do not have the same luxury of taking time off.  If 
a prairie chicken chick had the misfortune to hatch on the wrong day 
and in the wrong place recently, Lord knows they could tell you the 
truth better than I.

Phil Wire
Kirksville, Adair Co.
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Phil Wire
Truman State University

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