Common Nighthawks

It’s the season right now to watch and listen for┬áCommon Nighthawks as they migrate through the area. Their graceful shapes can be seen searching the evening air “hawking” for insects. A distinct white mark can be seen on their wings while flying. They look and act much like a Chimney Swift, but they are about twice the size of a Swift.

Common Nighthawks are not Hawks at all – they are part of the “nightjar” or “goatsucker” family which includes birds like the Whip-poor-will. The name goatsucker came from an old superstition that these birds sucked the milk from goats. They also do not hunt at night, they are most active at dawn and dusk. Nighthawks are attracted to outdoor lights where hordes of insects gather around the lights.

Nighthawks nest on the ground, sometimes on gravel beds. In urban areas, they have adapted to modern civilization by nesting on the flat roofs of buildings that have a gravelly surface.

Recent data suggest a general decline in numbers of this species, perhaps owing to increased predation, indiscriminate use of pesticides, or habitat loss.

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2 Responses to Common Nighthawks

  1. One evening last fall as we were driving down I35 by Forest Lake/Lino Lakes we saw hundreds of Common Nighthawks flying and catching insects over the freeway. It was an amazing sight.

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