Daily Archives: December 30, 2012

Spotlight On Ohio Birds

Common Nighthawk (Choroeiles minor)

Family: Caprimulgidae

Order: Caprimulgiformes

Description: 10″ (25cm) ADULT MALE Has blackish brown plumage overall. Upperparts are finely marked with fine black and whitish lines (looks like tree bark); throat is white and underparts have dark brown barring on pale background. Note white band across primaries in resting birds and in flight. Tail has white subterminal band, only obvious in flight. ADULT FEMALE Similar, but throat patch is buff, wing patch is less striking and white tail band is typically absent. JUVENILE Similar to adult.

Voice: Common Nighthawks give a nasal peent or beer call while flying. When defending a nest, the female gives a hissing or throaty cluck. Courting males give a croaking auk auk auk call.

Habitat:Common Nighthawks nest in both rural and urban habitats including coastal sand dunes and beaches, logged forest, recently burned forest, woodland clearings, prairies, plains, sagebrush, grasslands, open forests, and rock outcrops. They also nest on flat gravel rooftops, though less often as gravel roofs are being replaced by smooth, rubberized roofs that provide an unsuitable surface. During migration, Common Nighthawks stop in farmlands, river valleys, marshes, coastal dunes, and open woodlands. Their South American wintering habitat is not well known.

Nesting: 2 creamy white to pale olive gray eggs heavily speckled with brown, black and gray. Common Nighthawks lay eggs directly on the ground, which may consist of gravel, sand, bare rock, wood chips, leaves, needles, slag, tar paper, cinders, or living vegetation, such as moss, dandelion rosettes, and lichens. The female probably selects the nest site, usually on unsheltered ground, gravel beaches, rocky outcrops, and open forest floors. Nests are typically out in the open, but may also be near logs, boulders, grass clumps, shrubs, or debris. In cities, Common Nighthawks nest on flat gravel roofs.




  • On summer evenings, keep an eye and an ear out for the male Common Nighthawk’s dramatic “booming” display flight. Flying at a height slightly above the treetops, he abruptly dives for the ground. As he peels out of his dive (sometimes just a few meters from the ground) he flexes his wings downward, and the air rushing across his wingtips makes a deep booming or whooshing sound, as if a racecar has just passed by. The dives may be directed at females, territorial intruders, and even people.
  • The Common Nighthawk’s impressive booming sounds during courtship dives, in combination with its erratic, bat-like flight, have earned it the colloquial name of “bullbat.” The name “nighthawk” itself is a bit of a misnomer, since the bird is neither strictly nocturnal—it’s active at dawn and dusk—nor closely related to hawks.
  • Many Late Pleistocene fossils of Common Nighthawks, up to about 400,000 years old, have been unearthed between Virginia and California and from Wyoming to Texas.
  • Common Nighthawks, which have one of the longest migration routes of all North American birds, sometimes show up far out of range. They have been recorded in Iceland, Greenland, the Azores, the Faroe Islands, and multiple times on the British Isles.
  • The oldest Common Nighthawk on record was 10 years old.

Resource material provided by:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology/ http://www.allaboutbirds.com