The Common Nighthawk is a slender medium-sized bird of about 70-98 grams, with mottled grey and brown plumage. Their wings are pointed with a white bar near the tip. The male has white patches on his throat and across the tail. Both sexes make a nasally “peent” or “beer” call. During breeding season, the male nighthawk makes a loud booming noise with his wings, which is caused by air passing through his primary feathers.
The Common Nighthawk feeds almost exclusively on flying insects, and may occasionally consume small amounts of vegetation. Their main prey includes beetles, caddisflies, and moths. They also feed on mosquitoes, wasps, black flies, midges, crickets, grasshoppers, and flying ants. They will feed from as high as 175m, while descending in circles, usually at dawn and dusk.
Biology and Behaviour:
Common Nighthawks return to Ontario in late May or early June. They usually return to their same nesting grounds and produce a clutch of two eggs up until mid-August. Eggs are laid directly on the ground in a forest clearing, or on a gravel roof within urban areas. The female incubates the eggs for up to three weeks while the male feeds her. Nestlings reach maturity after 45-52 days, and are ready for the migration to South America by mid-September. Eggs may be preyed upon by crows, ravens and gulls, while adults may be preyed on by domestic cats, American Kestrels, and Peregrine Falcons.
The Eastern Whip-poor-will and the American Kestrel look similar, but they both have a different call. The Common Nighthawk can also be distinguished by a white bar across its wings, and the loud booming sound it makes during breeding season. It is slightly larger than Whip-poor-wills and does not have long thin feathers around its bill. The Common Nighthawk also has a larger head than an American Kestrel, and a notched tail.
Conservation and recovery strategies:
While the Common Nighthawk is protected under the Migratory Bird Act, not much is being done to protect this species. There has been a Recovery Strategy developed to address threats, identify critical habitat, and to fill in any knowledge gaps for the Common Nighthawk, but no action has been taken yet.
Common Nighthawk habitats are protected in Canadian National Parks, but since they have a broad range of habitats, not all of their geographic range is being protected or monitored. It is predicted that only 12% of the Common Nighthawk’s habitat is being protected at this time.
COSEWIC. 2018. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. xi + 50 pp.(http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=en&n=24F7211B-1)
Environment Canada. 2016. Recovery Strategy for the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. vii + 49 pp
Haché, S., Solymos, P., Fontaine, T., Bayne, E., Cumming, S., Schmiegelow, F., and Stralberg, D. 2014. Analyses to support critical habitat identification for Canada Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Common Nighthawk: Final Report 1 and 2. Boreal Avian Modeling Project. https://zenodo.org/record/2433885#.XmEbFWhKg2x
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