The Feather Files
Name: Common Nighthawk
Species: Chordeiles minor
Native to and Migration: Long distance: Summer North America; Winter South America
Date Seen: August 22, 2015
Location: NE of Airdrie, Alberta, Canada
The Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) – brown speckled plumage makes it a master of camouflage! My nighthawk flew out of one of my flower beds when I was busy taking flower photos. I sure didn’t see it there!
At first I thought I’d flushed a grouse, but when it flew up onto our roof, I quickly realized it was not like any bird I’d seen in our yard before. It sat there long enough for me to go get my camera and then leisurely take many photos with my zoom lens. A very photogenic and obliging bird!
From a distance, I thought it might be a member of the hawk family – though a small member. It seemed odd, though, that it was squatted right down on the roof, rather than standing on its legs.
When I zoomed in, I was surprised to see how large the eyes were, and what a tiny bill it had.
After I downloaded my photos, I sent a couple of them off to a friend who is a bird expert. He identified my bird as a Common Nighthawk.
A quick search of the internet told me that my bird isn’t a member of the hawk family at all. It is a relative of the whip-poor-will. My nighthawk didn’t seem to have a predominate throat band, which might mean it is a juvenile. Mature Females would have a buff throat band, while males would have a white one.
Nighthawks summer throughout much of North America. They winter throughout the whole of South America but are most abundant in eastern Peru, eastern Ecuador and southern Brazil. They have one of the longest migration routes of any North American bird.
The female nighthawk lays two eggs directly on soil, sand, gravel or bare rock. They do not build a nest.
They are aerial insectivores that feed primarily at dusk and dawn. They have good low light vision, which is how they can detect their prey.
Since the middle of the 19th century, the Common Nighthawk has adapted well to urban areas where there are buildings with flat gravel roofs that provide suitable nest sites. The species has also benefited from the abundance of insects around city lights.
Their numbers may be in decline in Canada. Perhaps that explains why I have never seen one before… or maybe I have, but I didn’t know what I was seeing!