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Common Nighthawk

Chordeiles minor ORDER: CAPRIMULGIFORMES FAMILY: CAPRIMULGIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

On warm summer evenings, Common Nighthawks roam the skies over treetops, grasslands, and cities. Their sharp, electric peent call is often the first clue they’re overhead. In the dim half-light, these long-winged birds fly in graceful loops, flashing white patches out past the bend of each wing as they chase insects. These fairly common but declining birds make no nest. Their young are so well camouflaged that they’re hard to find, and even the adults seem to vanish as soon as they land.

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Calls

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.

Other Sounds

During the breeding season, the male makes a booming sound by flexing his wings while diving, making air rush through his primaries. He does this while diving at females during courtship, and while diving at intruders (including humans). The male may clap his wings when intruders approach the nest.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

Common Nighthawks are easiest to see in flight at dawn and dusk as they forage for aerial insects. Pick a high overlook with a good view of a river, if possible. In towns, look for nighthawks over brightly lit areas such as billboards, stadium lights, and streetlights. Scan the darkening sky and you’ll likely find some bats zipping around with their frenzied flapping—but look for a larger, bounding, long-winged shape. If you don’t see one, listen for low, buzzy peent calls. If you are in an area with breeding nighthawks, pay attention for the bizarre booming noise of a territorial or courtship flight.