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Common Nighthawk

Chordeiles minor

Length: 9 to 10 inches Wingspan: 20 to 22 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: In flight, slender, long sharply pointed wings, white bar near base of primaries

Common Nighthawk - Chordeiles minorThe Common Nighthawk is a familiar sight on summer evenings in the state as it is often seen over urban areas as it chases flying insects.  They are highly specialized for capturing insects in flight, with a mouth that opens to a truly enormous size compared to the size of the bird. Active during both the day or night, they often congregate around light sources at night to feed on swarming insects.  The species has adapted very well to a human presence, and will often nest on gravel roofs.

Habitat: Can be found in a wide variety of semi-open to open habitats, including farmland, prairies, forest clearings, and urban areas.

Diet: Insects, especially flying insects such as moths, grasshoppers, beetles, flies, and flying ants.

Behavior: May feed at any time of the day or night, but is often the most active near dawn and dusk. Common Nighthawks have incredibly wide, gaping mouths which are used to scoop up insects in flight.

Nesting: June and July in South Dakota.  The nest is usually on the ground in a sandy or pebbly location, but they have also learned to use gravel and rock roofs in urban areas.  The female lays 2 eggs directly on the nesting surface, with no formal nest constructed.  Both parents help to incubate the eggs, but the female does most of the incubation.  Upon hatching, both parents help feed the young regurgitated insects.

Song: Common Nighthawk song 

Migration:  Summers throughout most of the U.S. and Canada.  Primarily winters in South America.

Interactive eBird Map: Click to access an interactive eBird map of Common Nighthawk sightings

Similar Species: Superficially similar to Chuck-wills Widow, Common Poorwill.  Outside of South Dakota, very similar to Lesser Nighthawk, Antillean Nighthawk

Conservation Status: Common throughout much of its range, but in some locations has exhibited severe declines for unknown reasons.  However, populations currently aren't under a serious threat, and the IUCN lists the Common Nighthawk as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Common Nighthawk

2) BirdWeb - Common Nighthawk

3) Audubon Guide - Common Nighthawk

Image Information: Colored pencil drawing by Terry Sohl - August 2012


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Common Nighthawk - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident throughout the state.

Additional Common Nighthawk Images
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Common Nighthawk - Drawing by Terry Sohl