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Swooping and diving through the air on its long slender wings, the Common Nighthawk emerges at dusk to chase down aerial insects. Nighthawks have short bills that open wide, so they can vacuum up their insect prey as they fly along.
Common Nighthawk, Uncommon Sound
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
[Flight calls of the Common Nighthawk]
The flight call of the Common Nighthawk vividly evokes a warm summer evening.
Swooping and diving through the air on its long slender wings, the nighthawk emerges at dusk to chase down aerial insects. It jerks and twists, making sudden, choppy shifts of direction to snatch its prey.
But the Common Nighthawk is not really a hawk at all. It’s more closely related to the nocturnal nightjars, such as the Whip-poor-wills of eastern North America. Nighthawks and nightjars have short bills that open wide, so they can vacuum up their insect prey as they fly along.
Common Nighthawks travel to North America in spring from Brazil and other South American countries, where they spend the winter.
They’re about the size of a robin, but have much longer wings that stretch out - like two dark boomerangs - propelling their erratic flight. Watch for Common Nighthawks overhead, just after sunset.
With any luck, you might see the male’s territorial display, as it dives sharply toward the earth only to pull up at the last second - making this amazing sound.
[Male’s booming sounds]
That’s the wind rushing through the male nighthawk’s wingfeathers. This acrobatic nighthawk really knows how to impress his potential mate.
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Editor: Ashley Ahearn
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill
Narrator: Michael Stein
Call of the Common Nighthawk provided by "websounds" recorded by R. Righter. Booming sound provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York; recorded by G.A. Keller.
© 2019 BirdNote August 2019 / July 2022
ID # 062905CONI CONI-01c