A common nighthawk showing off its distinctive wing bands

Common nighthawks are medium sized birds that are closely-related to the whip-poor-will. Even though they have a small pointed beak, their mouths are huge, allowing them to eat insect in mid-flight. They have long slender pointed wings with white bands that are visible during flight. They are unique looking birds that keep a very low profile when sitting on the ground or on fence posts, where they can also be seen.

Nighthawks are most active during the early morning and at dusk when light levels are low. They sometimes swoop out over fields and roads where they can be recognized by their distinctive white wing bands even in low light. They are part of the “night jar” family, which are also called ‘goat suckers’ because they were once believed to drink goat’s milk! Like bats and swallows these species eat thousands of insects every night.

They are found throughout Nova Scotia, but their numbers have been dwindling. Nighthawks are usually seen from mid-April through September in open areas with lots of insects. They nest on the ground in open areas with little vegetation, such as sand dunes, beaches, logged or burned-over areas, forest clearings, rocky outcrops, rock barrens, peat bogs, cropland and hayfields. They may also nest on flat gravel roofs.

How You Can Help:

A nighthawk on a fence-post in farm country

Maintain pastureland and open areas to increase habitat availability and use flushing bars when harvesting. Pasture rotation and a low livestock to pasture ratio will also help to maintain habitat for these beneficial species. Try limiting pesticide and chemical use that negatively affect non-pest insect populations. Report sightings (especially of nest sites or flocks in migration) to ebird.