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Common nighthawks, part of the nightjar family, are very acrobatic, slim winged birds often seen high in the air. 

Identification and Pictures of Nighthawk Bird

(Chordeiles minor)

NighthawkNighthawks are gray or gray-brown birds, about 8 1/2 to 10 inches.  They have large eyes, short bills, small feet, and long pointed wings with broad white bars.  The bill is surrounded by stiff feathers called rictal bristles which help it catch flying insects.  When they are at rest the wing tips extend past the tail.  Their dead leaf pattern camouflages them when resting on the ground.  The male has a white throat and white bar across the notched tail.  

Photo by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

Nighthawks are also called “mosquito hawks," "goatsuckers,” “bull bats,” and “night jars”.  The name Goatsucker was given to them in ancient times when goat herders saw the birds flying over their flocks with open mouths.  The birds were catching insects but the myth developed that they were sucking milk from the goats. 


Their call is a nasal peer or pee-ick normally heard in flight.
Listen to sound

Preferred Habitat

They range across the U.S. in summer.  In winter they migrate to South America, often in huge flocks which may contain hundreds or thousands of birds.  They are often seen in open country from mountains to lowlands.  They like treeless plains, and open pine woods.  They may be seen sitting on the ground, a roof, or a fence post with their eyes closed, or flying high in the air at mid day, but they prefer dusk.  Males do an aerial display where they dive, then swoop up making a deep booming sound with their wings.

Breeding and Nesting

Nighthawks usually nest on the bare ground, laying 2 cream or whitish colored eggs, with purplish-gray or olive-brown markings, in sand, gravel, leaves, or on a rock.  In cities they may lay their eggs on a roof.  The eggs are incubated mostly by the female for 18 to 20 days.  Both parents will care for the young, which will fledge in around 20 days.  The young birds will be on their own in 25 to 30 days.  


Nighthawks catch flying insects such as mosquitoes, flying ants, moths, or beetles, out of the air.  They prefer feeding at dawn or dusk but will forage at night with a bright moon or street light.

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