Friday, January 31, 2014

The Monthly Bird #2: Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk, adult.
No, it's not really a hawk. Many people think so, but it's not. Every time someone sees one and says "hawk!" I shudder (I'm so picky!). It's actually in the family of goatsuckers: Nocturnal flycatching birds that are seen the most during migration, from 6:30 p.m. to whenever it gets dark. Due to their long wings, they can resemble a small falcon or kite. But it's swooping and diving tell you it's not a raptor, but a nighthawk.

The Common Nighthawk in the sky looks like a cross between a kestrel and a gull. It is mottled brown all over, except for the white throat patch and white lines on the under and upper parts of the wings, where a human's wrist would be. And the swift flycatching behavior is another good field mark.  But the main field mark is their wing patches.

Common Nighthawk, adult, in flight.
Their habitat is amazingly varied, ranging from rural grasslands to the big cities, including: Coastal sand dunes and beaches, logged forest, recently burned forest, woodland clearings, prairies, plains, sagebrush, open forests, and rock outcrops.

Common Nighthawk range.
Living all over North America and being quite common, it's a bird that most people find easy to see. But when it comes to migration, they're just everywhere! And at night, if you're lucky, you'll see them fill the sky, night after night! So grab your binoculars, bird guide and flashlight, get out there this spring to do some (night)hawk watching. Happy birding!


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