Last updated

Chordeiles minorEJN31CB.jpg
Common nighthawk, Chordeiles minor
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Caprimulgiformes
Family: Caprimulgidae
Subfamily: Chordeilinae
Nighthawk wing markings. IGP4727 (3).jpg
Nighthawk wing markings.
A nighthawk resting on a branch. IGP4748.jpg
A nighthawk resting on a branch.

The nighthawk is a nocturnal bird of the subfamily Chordeilinae, within the nightjar family, Caprimulgidae, native to the western hemisphere. The term "nighthawk", first recorded in the King James Bible of 1611, was originally a local name in England for the European nightjar. Its use in the Americas refers to members of the genus Chordeiles and related genera was first recorded in 1778. [1]

Nighthawks are medium-sized birds with long wings, short legs, and very short bills. They usually nest on the ground. They feed on flying insects. The least nighthawk, at 16 centimetres (6.3 in) and 23 grams (0.81 oz), is the smallest of all Caprimulgiformes.

Nightjars are sometimes referred to as goatsuckers from the mistaken belief that they suck milk from goats (the Latin for goatsucker is Caprimulgus).

In October 2018, the University of Alberta published research on the common nighthawk revealing that it travels 20,000 kilometres every year during migration between the rainforests and savannas of Brazil and its breeding grounds in northern Alberta. [2]

Nighthawks have small feet, of little use for walking, and long pointed wings. Their soft plumage is cryptically coloured to resemble bark or leaves. Some species perch facing along a branch, rather than across it as birds usually do. This helps to conceal them during the day. The female lays two patterned eggs directly onto bare ground.

They are mostly active in the late evening and early morning or at night and feed on moths and other large flying insects. The bill opens very wide and has a slightly hooked upper tip.

Nighthawks are similar in most respects to the nightjars, but have shorter bills and plumage that is less soft. Nighthawks are less strictly nocturnal than many nightjars and may be seen hunting when there is still light in the sky.

Taxonomy and systematics

ImageGenusLiving species
Nyctiprogne Bonaparte, 1857
Rufous-bellied Nighthawk.jpg Lurocalis Cassin, 1851
Common Nighthawk.JPG Chordeiles Swainson, 1832

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nightjar</span> Family of birds

Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular birds in the family Caprimulgidae and order Caprimulgiformes, characterised by long wings, short legs, and very short bills. They are sometimes called goatsuckers, due to the ancient folk tale that they sucked the milk from goats, or bugeaters, their primary source of food being insects. Some New World species are called nighthawks. The English word "nightjar" originally referred to the European nightjar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">European nightjar</span> Migratory bird found in Eurasia and Africa

The European nightjar, common goatsucker, Eurasian nightjar or just nightjar, is a crepuscular and nocturnal bird in the nightjar family that breeds across most of Europe and the Palearctic to Mongolia and Northwestern China. The Latin generic name refers to the old myth that the nocturnal nightjar suckled from goats, causing them to cease to give milk. The six subspecies differ clinally, the birds becoming smaller and paler towards the east of the range. All populations are migratory, wintering in sub-Saharan Africa. Their densely patterned grey and brown plumage makes individuals difficult to see in the daytime when they rest on the ground or perch motionless along a branch, although the male shows white patches in the wings and tail as he flies at night.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Potoo</span> Family of nocturnal birds of tropical Central and South America

Potoos are a group of birds related to the nightjars and frogmouths. They are sometimes called poor-me-ones, after their haunting calls. The family Nyctibiidae was formerly included with the nightjars in the order Caprimulgiformes but is now placed in a separate order, Nyctibiiformes. There are seven species in two genera in tropical Central and South America. Fossil evidence indicates that they also inhabited Europe during the Paleogene.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Common nighthawk</span> Species of bird

The common nighthawk is a medium-sized crepuscular or nocturnal bird of the Americas within the nightjar family, whose presence and identity are best revealed by its vocalization. Typically dark, displaying cryptic colouration and intricate patterns, this bird is difficult to spot with the naked eye during the day. This bird is most conspicuous when in its buoyant and erratic flight. The most remarkable feature of this aerial insectivore is its small beak that belies the massiveness of its mouth. Some claim appearance similarities to owls. With its horizontal stance and short legs, the common nighthawk does not travel frequently on the ground, instead preferring to perch horizontally, parallel to branches, on posts, on the ground or on a roof. The males of this species may roost together but the bird is primarily solitary. The common nighthawk shows variability in territory size.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jerdon's nightjar</span> Species of bird

Jerdon's nightjar is a medium-sized nightjar species native to southern India and Sri Lanka. Formerly considered as a subspecies of the long-tailed nightjar, it is best recognized by its distinctive call which sounds like a wooden plank being beaten periodically with each note ending in a quaver. The common name commemorates Thomas C. Jerdon who described the species.

<i>Caprimulgus</i> Genus of birds

Caprimulgus is a large and very widespread genus of nightjars, medium-sized nocturnal birds with long pointed wings, short legs and short bills. Caprimulgus is derived from the Latin capra, "nanny goat", and mulgere, "to milk", referring to an old myth that nightjars suck milk from goats. The common name "nightjar", first recorded in 1630, refers to the nocturnal habits of the bird, the second part of the name deriving from the distinctive churring song.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eared nightjar</span> Subfamily of birds

The eared nightjars are a small group of nocturnal birds in the nightjar family, although the taxonomy is uncertain. There are seven species, mainly found in forest and scrub from China to Australia. 5 species are placed in the genus, Eurostopodus, the other two species in Lyncornis. They are long winged birds with plumage patterned with grey and brown to camouflage them when resting on the ground. They feed on insects caught in flight. A single white egg is laid directly on the ground and incubated by both adults. The chicks can walk soon after hatching.

Caprimulginae Subfamily of birds

The Caprimulginae or typical nightjars are a nocturnal bird subfamily within the nightjar family, Caprimulgidae. They are medium-size with long wings, short legs, and very short bills. They usually nest on the ground. They feed on flying insects.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hawking (birds)</span> Feeding strategy in birds involving catching flying insects in the air

Hawking is a feeding strategy in birds involving catching flying insects in the air. The term usually refers to a technique of sallying out from a perch to snatch an insect and then returning to the same or a different perch, though it also applies to birds that spend almost their entire lives on the wing. This technique is called "flycatching" and some birds known for it are several families of "flycatchers": Old World flycatchers, monarch flycatchers, and tyrant flycatchers. Other birds, such as swifts, swallows, and nightjars, also take insects on the wing in continuous aerial feeding. The term "hawking" comes from the similarity of this behavior to the way hawks take prey in flight, although, whereas raptors may catch prey with their feet, hawking is the behavior of catching insects in the bill. Many birds have a combined strategy of both hawking insects and gleaning them from foliage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spotted nightjar</span> Species of bird

The spotted nightjar is a species of nightjar in the family Caprimulgidae. It inhabits much of mainland Australia and has also been found in several Indonesian islands. Its natural habitats are open forests and woodlands, scrub, spinifex and tussock grassland, savannah woodland and mangroves.

<i>Antrostomus</i> Genus of birds

Antrostomus is a genus of nightjars formerly included in the genus Caprimulgus. They are medium-sized nocturnal birds with long pointed wings, short legs and short bills.


  1. "Nighthawk" . Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. Willis, Katie (October 1, 2018). "Scientists track nighthawks' migration route in search of clues to species' steep decline". Retrieved October 1, 2018.