Living Bird Magazine
Lesser NighthawkChordeiles acutipennis
- ORDER: Caprimulgiformes
- FAMILY: Caprimulgidae
The highly camouflaged Lesser Nighthawk sits motionless during the day, but takes flight as the desert heat starts to dissipate. In the glow of twilight, the Lesser Nighthawk flies almost like a butterfly on buoyant wings with its mouth wide open, inhaling insects that fly near. A white bar across the wings flashes against the darkening sky as a gurgled laugh reverberates in the air. This aerial acrobat nests on the bare ground in deserts and scrublands, without putting down even a blade of grass.More ID Info
Find This Bird
The best time to see a Lesser Nighthawk is just before dusk. When the sun starts to dip under the horizon, head out to the desert. Look for an area that provides an expansive view of both the ground and the sky, such as a dry wash or a sparsely vegetated creosote flat. They tend to fly low to the ground, so watch for dark forms moving buoyantly over the tops of low plants. Lesser Nighthawks move about quite a bit searching for insect swarms, and you should too—check out street lights for swarming insects and a nighthawk may flutter through with its mouth wide open.
- Añapero Garrapena (Spanish)
- Engoulevent minime (French)
- Cool Facts
- The female Lesser Nighthawk doesn't build a nest; instead she lays eggs directly on the ground, relying on her camouflaged body to keep the eggs hidden.
- Most birds pick a spot to nest in and stay put, but not the Lesser Nighthawk. Not only does she not build a nest, but she moves the eggs, often rolling them into shady areas when the desert sun gets too hot.
- Lesser Nighthawks, like other nightjars (or members of the Caprimulgidae family) have an uncanny ability to deal with extreme heat and cold. If it gets too cold, they shut down and enter torpor until conditions improve. If it gets too hot, they face into the wind or open their bills wide to let air flow over the mouth to cool down.
- Nestling nighthawks can walk short distances from the nest 1-2 days after they hatch, but they can't fly or feed themselves until they are 21 days old.