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One of our best mosquito eaters

Common Nighthawk - Chordailes Minor
Common Nighthawk, by John James Audubon, watercolor, accession number 1863.17.147.

The Common Nighthawk pictured here is not related to hawks. Unlike a hawk, they have small, weak feet without talons that make perching difficult, let alone grabbing and rip- tearing prey. Also a short, weak bill framing a disproportionately large mouth -- the better to scoop up flying insects that make up their diet (beetles, moths, mosquitoes, swarming ants, et al..)

Most of their time is spent in flight hunting insects by day or night, particularly near dawn and dusk, with an affinity for feeding around bright lights.

They perch lengthwise on a limb or fence rail.

The male's courtship display is impressive: "...His wingbeats become...stiff and choppy as he circles and hovers high in the air, calling repeatedly; then he goes into a steep dive, with a rushing or 'booming' sound made by air passing through wing feathers at the bottom of the dive. Landing near [the] female, he spreads [his] tail, rocks back and forth, and calls."1 This apparantly works because the Common Nighthawk is found throughout the United States and Canada; even Newfoundland. Both parents care for the young, With minimal nests on open ground in forests, plains, farms-- and flat graveled roofs in cities.

The Nighthawk, measuring about 10", migrates long distances often in flocks of a hundred or more, to South America (Brazil to Argentina). Look for their mating display next Spring when they return to nest.

1. Kenn Kaufman. Lives of North American Birds. (New York: Houghton Mifflin. 1996.) Page 324.

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