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Summer evenings bring common nighthawks to the skies

The peak time for viewing the common nighthawk migration is right now. I have already had reports of these birds passing over people’s houses and through the uptown Charlotte area.

Common nighthawks usually are seen from 7:30 to 8:15 p.m., with the peak around 7:45 p.m. A vantage point that gives a wide view of the dusk sky is best. Sometimes it will be just a couple of birds that you see, but there is potential to see congregations of dozens of birds. Such numbers used to be common, but this nighthawk is a declining species in the eastern United States, so the migration count numbers are lower now. I used to see loose flights of over 50 birds in Mecklenburg County. It is more realistic to see a half dozen to a dozen birds nowadays.

Nighthawks are about the size of an American kestrel but their long, slim, pointed wings make them appear larger. Look for a white bar on the underside of the wings near the wingtips to clinch the identification. They will be flying in stiff-winged manner with a few twists and turns mixed in.

They are not hawks, actually. They are members of the goatsucker clan, same as the whippoorwill. They catch large flying insects while on the wing. In the populous eastern United States they have adapted well to cities and now are fond of using flat, gravel roofs of buildings, especially in urban areas where city lights attract large moths and beetles.

There are relatively few species of birds where one can actually view their migration, so take advantage of this opportunity to see an interesting and declining species.