Common Nighthawk

Scientific name: Chordeiles minor
Mi’kmaq name:


The Common Nighthawk is a medium-sized (24 cm) bird, with a large flattened head, large eyes, small bill, and large mouth. It has long slender pointed wings and a long, slightly notched tail. Its dark brown plumage is mottled with black, white and buff. In flight, adults have a white patch across their wings. They make a “buzz-squawk” sound in flight, and males make a booming noise with their wings when they dive.


Breeding habitat is varied and includes open areas with little ground vegetation, such as sand dunes, beaches, logged or burned-over areas, forest clearings, rocky outcrops, rock barrens, peat bogs, and pastures.

Nighthawks are seen from mid-April through September in open areas with lots of insects. Watch and listen for them feeding over lakes at dusk.

Interesting Points

  • Two eggs are laid directly on bare soil, sand, gravel or rock.
  • Only the female incubates the eggs, and the male will feed her.
  • They are aerial insectivores (they eat bugs in mid-air) and feed mainly at dusk and dawn.
  • The “night jar” family are also called “goat suckers” because they were believed to drink goat’s milk.
  • The booming noises are made by the wings of the males as they pull out of steep dives.


  • Reduction in habitat availability, due to fire suppression and intensive agricultural practices.
  • Habitat degradation and fragmentation.
  • Depletion of insects as a food source, due to pesticides.
  • Light pollution in urban settings where historically nesting was common on flat roofs.
  • Disturbance, severe weather events, and climate change.

Courtesy of Species at Risk in Nova Scotia: Identification & Information Guide


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