Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

Common nighthawk

4 languages
Chordeiles minor
Life Span
4-5 yrs
Top speed
23.4 km/h
55-98 g
22-25 cm
51-61 cm

The common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor ) is a medium-sized crepuscular or nocturnal bird of the Americas within the nightjar family, whose presence and identity are best revealed by its vocalization. Typically dark (grey, black and brown), displaying cryptic colouration and intricate patterns, this bird is difficult to spot with the naked eye during the day. This bird is most conspicuous when in its buoyant and erratic flight. The most remarkable feature of this aerial insectivore is its small beak that belies the massiveness of its mouth. Some claim appearance similarities to owls. With its horizontal stance and short legs, the common nighthawk does not travel frequently on the ground, instead preferring to perch horizontally, parallel to branches, on posts, on the ground or on a roof. The males of this species may roost together but the bird is primarily solitary. The common nighthawk shows variability in territory size.

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This caprimulgid has a large, flattened head with large eyes; facially it lacks rictal bristles. The common nighthawk has long slender wings that at rest extend beyond a notched tail. There is noticeable barring on the sides and abdomen, also white wing-patches.

The common nighthawk measures 22 to 25 cm (8.7 to 9.8 in) long, displays a wing span of 51 to 61 cm (20 to 24 in) weighs 55 to 98 g (1.9 to 3.5 oz), and has a life span of 4 to 5 years.

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This medium-sized bird has large, flattened head and long, narrow, pointed wings. The bill of Common nighthawks is small while the mouth and eyes are large. The long tail is notched and brown with buff bands. Across the long feathers, bordering the wings, the bird has wide white stripe, which is visible when flying. The throat band of female nighthawks is buff-colored whereas that of males is white. In addition, male nighthawks have a white stripe near the tip of the tail. Juveniles can be identified by the absence of buff-colored or white throat band.



The area of their distribution covers nearly all of North America, including all provinces and territories of Canada, except with Nunavut. They also nest in some parts of Central America and, possibly, in southeastern Columbia. The Common nighthawk occurs mainly in open, vegetation-free terrains such as recently harvested forests, burnt-over and logged areas, lakeshores, river banks and beaches, dunes, rocky outcrops and rocky barrens, peat bogs and swamps, grasslands and pastures. These birds can also be found in mixed and coniferous forests.

Common Nighthawk habitat map
Common Nighthawk habitat map
Common Nighthawk
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Habits and Lifestyle

Common nighthawks are very territorial animals with males, fiercely defending their territory by diving at intruders. These birds are solitary nesters. They are crepuscular animals, feeding at dusk, dawn and at night. The rest of the time they spend sleeping or roosting. In addition, they tend to sunbathe on tree branches, the ground, flat rooftops or fence posts. These birds gather in large migrating flocks, sometimes containing hundreds or thousands of individuals. They travel huge distances, leaving for South America in September and wintering there. They return to their northernmost breeding grounds in Yukon Territory (North-western Canada) only in the beginning of June.

Group name
Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Common nighthawks are carnivores (insectivores), they feed mainly upon beetles, queen ants, mosquitoes and true bugs. They can also consume insects such as grasshoppers, wasps, moths, flies, mayflies, caddis flies as well as crickets.

Mating Habits

mid-March to October
18-20 days
45-50 days
2 eggs

Common nighthawks are monogamous. Breeding season lasts from mid-March to the beginning of October. The female usually lays 2 eggs with the interval of 1-2 days, incubating the eggs for 18-20 days. The chicks are semiprecocial, starting to respond to their mother's call within the first day of their lives. In evenings, the female leaves the nesting site to forage. The hatchlings feed upon regurgitated insects. At the age of 16 days they are able to hop while the first flight is at 18 days old. At 25-25 days old, the young can fly well, and by the age of 30 days they leave the nest. The young are fully developed at 45-50 days old, joining flocks of migrating nighthawks.


Population threats

The major threats to this species' population are alteration and loss of habitat. Another concern is population decline of insect species due to widespread use of insecticides, climatic fluctuations at breeding sites and during migration and collisions with motor vehicles. Other threats include: fire suppression; intensive agriculture with reforestation of abandoned agricultural fields and harvested forests; reduction of flat rooftops, covered with gravel.

Population number

The overall population number of this widespread species is unknown but presently decreasing. The estimated population in Canada is about 400.000 breeding adult individuals. On the IUCN Red List, the species is classified as Least Concern (LC).

Ecological niche

These birds control populations of prey species they feed upon. In addition, they compete for food with lesser nighthawks and bats.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • During the courtship display, male nighthawks climb high and then make a sharp, steep dive. When flying, the air rushes through the feathers of their wing, making a vibrating sound which is called "booming".
  • A group of the Common nighthawks is called "kettle".
  • In urban areas, these birds can be seen near streetlights and yard lights, catching insects, attracted to the light.
  • This bird is often called the mosquito hawk due to its ability to catch insects on the fly.
  • As a matter of fact, the Common nighthawk is not closely related to hawks.
  • According to a common but mistaken belief, the nighthawk visits barns at night, suckling goat's milk. Due to this myth, the Common nighthawk is sometimes called "goatsucker".


1. Common Nighthawk Wikipedia article -
2. Common Nighthawk on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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