This dove-sized bird is most likely to be seen flying overhead. It is dark overall except for a white "chin" and a white bar on each wing which almost looks transparent against the sky. The wings are slim and tapered. Sexes are similar. Close-up, the Common Nighthawk is a marvel of camoflauge, with mottled brown and white markings that blend into its surroundings.
The Common Nighthawk forages in the air and is most active early in the morning and at dusk. It catches insects on the wing; flying ants are its single most predominant food. This species lays eggs directly on the ground, preferring a gravelly, mossy, or leafy surface. In urban areas gravel roofs have often served as nesting sites. This bird utters a distinctive “peent” that sounds almost like a human-made electric alarm. They are solitary in breeding season but migrate in flocks.
What brings it to the SBG?
Food, cover, possibly nesting sites. Common Nighthawks will congregate in places where insects are abundant, and have been observed wheeling over the habitat of a summer evening.
When can I see it?
Spring, summer, early fall, but mainly in summer. They migrate deep into South America, travelling further than almost any other North American bird species. Though their overall status is currently (2016) “Least Concern,” they are considered a “common bird in steep decline” in several northeastern states, so they are increasingly uncommon.