Common nighthawk

Kootenay National Park

Quick facts

Found in open habitats with lots of flying insects
Nests on the ground
Winters in South America
Status: Special Concern

common nighthawk

The common nighthawk is a master of camouflage. Its speckled body makes it virtually impossible to see when it is perched on the ground. It is one of the few birds that lays its eggs directly on bare soil, gravel or rock.

The common nighthawk likes open habitats with lots of flying insects. It breeds in Kootenay National Park and is most often seen in Douglas fir forests and grasslands at the south end of the park.

This bird hunts at dawn and dusk. It darts around on its narrow pointed wings and uses its excellent night vision to snap up flying insects. It mostly eats beetles, caddisflies and moths.

The common nighthawk is not so common anymore. Its numbers have been dropping over the last few decades and it is currently listed as a threatened species in Canada.

Where to see

Look for nighthawks during the summer flying over ponds or above Redstreak Campground. If you hear a buzzy nasal “peet”, look up and you’ll see these birds chasing insects overhead. Nighthawks can be identified by their erratic flight and narrow pointy wings with a white bar.

Why is the common nighthawk in danger?

We don’t know exactly why nighthawk numbers are dropping. It could be due to a combination of factors:

  • declining populations of insect prey, perhaps due to pesticides,
  • fewer open habitats due to fire suppression,
  • habitat loss and damage due to human activities, and
  • climate change – extreme weather events and droughts may affect both the bird and its insect prey.

What are we doing to help this species?

Kootenay National Park is trying to halt the decline of the common nighthawk by:

  • identifying and protecting nest sites from disturbance
  • restoring open habitats with prescribed fire
prescribed burn

Learn more

Species at Risk Public Registry - Species profile: Common Nighthawk

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