Find out more about our Species at Risk

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

Species: Common Nighthawk
Status: Threatened
Key Information

The Common Nighthawk can be spotted at dawn or dusk as it’s quickly flying in the sky, foraging for insects. During the day they’re harder to spot due to their efficient camouflage that allows them to blend in easily when they roost in trees or on the ground. In Canada, it is estimated that there are around 400,000 adult Nighthawks. Their average lifespan is about 5 years old, but the oldest recorded Nighthawk was just over 9 years old.

They’re found in Canada during their mating season from May to August, sometimes staying as late as October. They will lay 2 eggs directly on the ground, not bothering to construct a nest. During mating and nesting season they’re typically flying solo, but as they prepare to migrate, they congregate in large numbers. They then travel to South America during the winter months.

Their numbers have been recorded to have declined by half since the 1960’s due to pesticide application and loss of flying insects, habitat loss from deforestation/replanting and even vehicle collisions. They are insectivores and feed mainly on flying insects. The natural predators of these birds are falcons, owls and foxes, and species such as crows, ravens and gulls target their eggs. Increasing domestic cat populations have affected them as well. The Common Nighthawk is now determined to be threatened.

Identification – what to look for:

  • Makes a “peent” sound
  • Short beak
  • Flat head
  • Large black, oval eyes
  • Larger wings with a distinctive white stripe on the underside
  • Well camouflaged, speckled colouring
  • Sporadic flight patterns

Where are they found?

  • Their mate and nest in Canada during warm summer months. They then migrate south for winter
  • They prefer open areas with abundance of flying insects to forage on
  • They can be seen flying and hunting during dawn and dusk
  • They lay their eggs directly on the ground of open, mossy bluffs
  • They can be found in both rural and urban areas
  • On Cortes they have been spotted at night, flying and foraging near open areas like the corner of Sutil Point Rd. and Bartholomew Rd.

Cool facts!

  • They are very territorial and will dive at humans
  • males will make a “boom” sound with their wings by forcing air through their wingtips when they dive quickly down to the ground and flex their wings
  • They’re skilled acrobats in the sky and can fly in loops and switch directions abruptly
  • When there is a large number of them in a group it is referred to as a “kettle”
  • Although their average lifespan is 5 years, the oldest recorded bird was a 9-year-old female

Useful links:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: More Identification Information
COSEWIC Status Report (pdf): Common Nighthawk
Nature Canada: Species Spotlight on the Common Nighthawk: Common Nighthawk

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Friends of Cortes Island Society (FOCI) is a charitable organization that has been active for over 25 years. Our organization exists to monitor and preserve the health of local ecosystems, and to provide educational programs that foster a greater understanding of the natural environment. Through all of our projects, we work to promote environmental integrity through community responsibility.