Migrating nighthawks' population declining

09/05/2008 4:00 PM

09/05/2008 5:30 PM

In late August, I start to look for migrating common nighthawks. Some years I don't see any but occasionally I get lucky; and if I am really lucky, it can be quite a spectacle. Common nighthawks migrate in loose flocks of just a few individuals up to several dozen.

They fly low in the sky, usually appearing in late afternoon or dusk. Nighthawks are sizable birds, and their long, angular wings make them look even bigger. They fly with a peculiar stiff-winged stroke in zig-zag flight.

The species is declining, especially to our north, so I do not see them nearly as much as I used to.

Common nighthawks are not birds of prey as their name suggests. They are closely related to whippoorwills and chuck-will's-widows, but while those species spend most of their time on the ground or in low flight, nighthawks tend to feed on the wing much higher in the air.

Spectators at nighttime athletic events often see them foraging around the lights for large moths and other night-flying insects.

If you are lucky enough to see one of these interesting birds flying over one evening, stop and see if there are others associated with it.

Take some time to count the individuals and let me know how many you saw.

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