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Published: Thursday, 7/25/2002

Nighthawks take sanctuary

BY REBEKAH SCOTT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The baby common nighthawk emerges from under its mother at St. Charles Borromeo Church. The baby common nighthawk emerges from under its mother at St. Charles Borromeo Church.
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She's a 2-ounce, mottled mother bird, dark as a slice of shoo-fly pie. She perfectly matches the broken asphalt underneath her breast.

To human eyes, this is a patch of the St. Charles Borromeo Church parking lot in South Toledo, a lonely corner of chain-link fence, brick wall, and traffic noise. But to a common nighthawk, it's a perfect place to hunker down and lay two beige eggs.

The bird has been on this spot for at least two weeks. She exemplifies in the parking lot the virtues taught in the sanctuary:

Patience. Constancy. Serenity.

And Scripture backs her up. Sunday's church bulletin quotes Psalm 84: “The sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for her brood; she lays her young by your altars, Lord of Hosts.”

“It's been incredibly hot, and there she was out there, frying,” said Maude Walsh, business manager at the church. “And Monday, the wind blew so hard and it rained and stormed, and there she sat with the rain pouring off her. Ever faithful.”

The Rev. Tom Extejt, pastor at St. Charles and a bird-watcher, identified her as a nighthawk, and one evening saw her mate emerge from the shadows to take a turn at egg-sitting.

The mother-to-be took off on an acrobatic bug-catching expedition.

Nighthawks, like their killdeer cousins, live on insects and lay their eggs on flat roofs or on gravelly ground, said Laura Zitzelberger, Nature's Nursery operations coordinator.

When a predator approaches, the mother fakes injury to lure it away from her eggs. The church people did right to rope off the nesting area with orange traffic cones and “keep away” signs, she said. They left the hawk to dwell in peace behind her colorful barricade. No water supply. No bird seed.

“We knew she could fend for herself, but we were worried someone would drive up to park, and squish her or the eggs,” Ms. Walsh said. “She was really invisible there.”

Yesterday, after weeks of waiting, the first egg cracked open and a thumb-sized bird baby emerged. It stretched its wet wings, flexed its feet. Then it turned to its mother and opened its beak. She had a mashed-mosquito meal ready for it.

The second egg should hatch sometime today, Ms. Zitzelberger said. “The babies are pretty independent. They get up and walk around almost right away,” she explained. “I'm sure mom will move them from location to location in the next few days, sometimes to places we might think are unwise.”

But mother knows best, she said. Or perhaps, born as they were in the churchyard, they hear a higher call. In about three weeks, in time for the fall migration, the little nighthawks will take flight, just like it says in the Book of Job: “It is by [God's] wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads his wings toward the south.”



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