The Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is an uncommon bird

Nighthawks: the drift nets of the avian world?

Only the Common Nighthawk and the Common Poorwill are found in B.C.

The Common Nighthawk is a member of a small bird family called Caprimulgidae. There are only seven species in the family in North America, four of which occur in Canada. Only the Common Nighthawk and the Common Poorwill are found in B.C.

All of these species are insect-eaters; food is caught on the wing. To better enable them to feed in this manner, they have developed a couple of interesting physical features. Their beaks are almost nonexistent; instead they have a huge gaping mouth. This allows them to fly through the air and simply engulf their prey in their mouths.

They also have very long, narrow wings. This makes them strong fliers and enables them to change direction very quickly as they pursue insects in the air.

They are known to be voracious eaters. The stomach of one dead Common Nighthawk was found to contain 2,175 flying ants! It takes quite a while to catch that many insects, so when feeding they remain in the air for hours at a time.

When they aren’t feeding they rest. As you can see from the accompanying picture, resting is done by lying length-ways on a branch.

Since they never perch in a typical birdlike manner, they have lost the ability to do so. Their feet are tiny and absolutely useless for perching. Feeding is generally done in the evening and at night, hence the name nighthawk.

The Common Nighthawk is about 23 cm. in length with a wingspan of well over 40 cm. The plumage is mottled black and brown, with a white throat and prominent white patches in the wings. As you watch them feeding overhead you notice their very graceful, although somewhat erratic, flight.

Nighthawks, and other members of the family, make very little effort to build nests. Eggs, generally two, are laid directly onto the ground in open areas, usually on sand, gravel or moss. They have also been discovered nesting on flat gravelled roofs. Our immediate area does not offer much nesting habitat, so Common Nighthawks are not particularly common in our vicinity. But when they are around, warm summer evenings are the best time to see them. I saw my first ones of the year just last week.


Just Posted

UPDATE: Tsunami warning cancelled for coastal British Columbia

Warning issued following 7.9 earthquake off Kodiak, AK

Doukhobor Heritage Society seeks zoning change for water plant

Questions remain on how taking 500,000 litres a day from aquifer would affect local water supply

Judgment reserved in Nakusp school sex trial

Trial concluded today with lawyer’s summations

Former teacher acquitted on two of four sex charges

Judge found no evidence to support sexual assault charges against Shanny McIvor

New Denver emergency ward to remain 24/7

Interior Health says it’s postponing changes to operating hours.

Testing the Google Arts & Culture app

Going face to face with art

VIDEO: Fuel truck and train collide in B.C. causing massive fire

More emergency crews are still arriving on scene of a massive fire at the Port Coquitlam rail yard.

Back to work: U.S. government shutdown ends after Democrats relent

Short-term spending measure means both sides could see another shutdown stalemate in three weeks

Man lives despite malfunctioning defibrillator at B.C. arena

A middle-aged man went into cardiac arrest after at game at Pitt Meadows Arena last Wednesday.

Cause of Northern B.C. seaplane crash released

TSB releases report on seaplane crash during a water landing in 2016 near First Nations community

Vancouver police crack down on pop-up pot vendors

Officers raided merchants’ tables on Robson Square late Sunday

Dryer incident at Teck Elkview Operations

Locals report hearing loud bang

Bell Media, NFL take appeal over Super Bowl ad rules to top court

At issue is a ban on substituting American ads with Canadian ones during the game’s broadcast

Crown seeks 4.5 years jail for B.C. woman convicted of counselling tax evasion

Debbie Anderson the latest from group to face jail for teaching debunked ‘natural person’ theory

Most Read