Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lesser Nighthawk breeding in Honduras

Incubating female Lesser Nighthawk
The Lesser Nighthawk is a common migrant and winter visitant in Honduras, occurring in the lowlands of both coasts and in the interior highlands to 1,200 meters. It prefers arid situations and is most abundant along the Pacific coast and in the arid interior valleys. It is also a regular migrant in the Bay Islands and the Cayos Cochinos. There is no direct evidence that the species breeds in Honduras, although several specimens have been secured in June (Eisenmann, 1963: 165).

Burt Monroe, 1968, A Distributional Survey of the Birds of Honduras

Twenty-seven years later, Howell & Webb (1995) did not know much more ("exact distribution poorly known"), and their map shows it (incorrectly) as a breeding resident in the interior of northern Central America, from Mexico through Guatemala to western Honduras. Juárez & Komar (2012) however described breeding of this species on the beaches of El Salvador and Guatemala, away from the interior. They noted that breeding of Lesser Nighthawk is still not reported for Honduras.

Yesterday, while in the company of one of these authors, I almost stepped on an incubating Lesser Nighthawk down at one of the salt ponds in the Honduran part of the Gulf of Fonseca. Although a brown bird against a green background should have been obvious, we just weren't prepared I guess. 

Nest of Lesser Nighthawk

As the female flew off, a little scrape on the ground revealed two eggs. We decided to quickly take photos and then leave, to let the female go back to her nest.

Can you find the nest?

When we passed again an hour later, we found her back on her nest brooding her eggs. This time I took some photos of the bird on the nest, but was careful not to flush her again.

Although near the coast, the habitat here is notably different from breeding habitat on the beaches of El Salvador and Guatemala, where the birds were found breeding on white sand close to the high water line (Juárez & Komar 2012). This Honduran nest was approximately 20 m from a shack used by the supervisor of the salt pond complex, and on short grass, about 7 km away from open water.

At times we have seen large numbers of Lesser Nighthawks at dusk in the lowlands of the Gulf of Fonseca. Are these birds perhaps breeding in the salt ponds here and there, and on the beaches of Choluteca, between Punta Ratón and Punta Condega?

Cited literature:
Howell, S. N. G. & S. Webb. 1995. A Field Guide to Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press.
Juárez-Jovel, R. C. & O. Komar. 2012. Nuevo sitios de anidación para el Chorlito Piquigrueso (Charadrius wilsonia) y el Chotacabras Menor (Chordeiles acutipennis) en El Salvador y Guatemala. Bóletin SAO, Vol. 21, 6 pp.
Monroe, B. L. 1968. A Distributional Survey of the Birds of Honduras. Ornithological Monographs No. 7, American Ornithologists' Union.

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