Common Nighthawk

Hey guys, welcome back. Last time, we did a swallow, and I said today’s bird would share some things with swallows. Well, that’s true. The common nighthawk has long, pointed wings, and hunts for insects in the air just like swallows. But that’s about where the similarities end.

Nighthawks are in the nightjar family, along with whip-poor-wills and chuck-wills-widows. Nightjars are weird looking birds, that have a very distinct silhouette when perched in a tree, or sitting on a log. They are very well camouflaged and look like lumps of wood or branches. They have fairly large, flat heads with a short, but wide bill on their face. In flight, the common nighthawk can be easily picked out from the other nightjars by the bright white patches they have toward the ends of their wings. They are also more likely to be spotted perched high up in a tree than their cousins. Common nighthawks are crepuscular/nocturnal, being seen mostly at dusk and dawn.

Common Nighthawk1
Common nighthawk in a tree, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

They are so well camouflaged that they don’t even build nests! They lay their eggs right on the ground and rely on said camouflage for protection. I remember my first nighthawk sighting. I was with my friend and then-coworker Julie in Central Park. She was shadowing me that day, as I typically worked the north end of the park and she worked the south. I had heard from a birder that there was a nighthawk spotted near Central Park’s Great Hill. It was in a very tall tuliptree. Well, Julie and I searched for what seems like forever and were just about to give up when we spotted it. It was right out in the open on one of the main branches of the tree, but because it blended in so well, we looked right at it and didn’t see it! That was the only one I saw in NY. In St. Louis, I would see them in Forest Park near dusk flying around by the St. Louis Zoo. One day, while walking past the zoo toward the forest to do some birding, I looked up in a tree, and just happened to spot one! That’s the one in the pictures featured in this post. You can see just how well hidden they can be! Well, from one insect-eating bird to another, olive-sided flycatcher is up next! See you then.

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