Thursday, September 19, 2013


“Peent” is the vocalization of the Common Nighthawk.

Recently I stumbled upon the nest of a Common Nighthawk while on a rooftop of an office building.  I knew that I had found a Nighthawk nest site because the mother was dragging her wings on the ground and running erratically away from the site trying to draw me away from her babies. Once I realized what she was up to I paused and looked to the ground to try and find the nest site and just a few feet to my left sat two eggs near a discarded piece of wood. After a few photos of the nest site I left quietly so as not to disturb her. In the weeks to come I frequently visited the site to see and observe the development of the young and their mother.

 The female Nighthawk trying to decoy me away from her eggs 
The behaviors of the Nighthawk are very different from most birds. The physical appearance of the Common Nighthawk is described as a small bird with long slender wings, large head, and a small bill but with a large gaping mouth when opened and lined with bristles to help capture prey. The coloration is filled with different shades of greys, browns, and white and is designed to camouflage and break up their appearance.
Often times Nighthawks are seen near baseball fields, well lit parking lots, and any area with bright lights at dusk and again at dawn where they feed on up to 600 individual flying invertebrates a night.

This bird species has one of the largest migration patterns of any North American Bird. Nighthawks travel South in the winter to as far as Chile and then travel back as far north as Alaska in the summertime.

The breeding season is in mid spring to early summer, and the males will court females by flying upwards of 700 feet and diving to the ground, opening their wings, sometimes just feet from the ground. As the males open their wings they create a deep booming noise that is similar to the noise of a car passing by at a high speed.

Nighthawks blend in very well with the gravel they choose for their nesting area 
Normally only producing 2 pale colored eggs speckled with grey, the females will typically nest in an open area with no nesting material--on gravel roof tops, in urban settings, and in open fields or near water in more uninhabited areas.

Nighthawk chick and an unhatched egg—even from a few feet away they're almost impossible to see 
I have to say that keeping an eye on the two little ones was truly a gratifying experience. Astonishingly a very short experience--from the time the eggs were laid to the time the two were making short flights on the rooftop was only 30 days.

The last time I saw the babies was about a week ago. I had walked around an air conditioning unit and spooked them so they took off and caught the wind and were out of sight in no time.   

Submitted by Adam Triska, World Bird Sanctuary  Naturalist/Trainer

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