Saskatchewan is home to a variety of unique birds and wildlife that live in some of our last remaining grasslands. One of these species is the Common Nighthawk which is part of the nightjar family. These small grassland birds have brownish-grey mottled plumage which gives them excellent camouflage to hide from predators. In comparison to their camouflage, these birds have a white v-shaped patch on their throat, and distinct white bars near the ends of their long and pointed wings that are visible when in flight. They have short necks and large eyes which makes them appear to have a large head. They are about 22-24cm in length with a wingspan of 53-57cm. They are most active at dawn and dusk as they hunt aerial insects. They can be heard by their “peent” sounds and “booming” display as they circle above. Common Nighthawks are also known to drink water as they are in flight.
Common Nighthawk populations have declined by over 60% in southern Canada since the 1970s. This species was listed as a threatened species in 2007, but in 2018 its status was updated to a species of special concern. It is estimated that there are 400,000 breeding pairs in Canada. Threats to this species include a decline of aerial insects that it feeds on, and a loss of habitat which includes less areas available for nesting.
Common Nighthawks will form large flocks as they travel long distances for migration and a group of Nighthawks is known as a “kettle.” This bird will breed across Canada, and will winter in South America. They have been found outside of their typical range as far away as Iceland, Greenland and the British Isles. Males will often roost together. Common Nighthawks will have one brood of eggs per year once they are two years old and will lay 1-2 eggs. Unlike most birds that build nests, Common Nighthawks will lay their eggs on flat surfaces like the open prairie. These birds have also adapted to nest on flat gravel roofs in urban areas. The young will be able to start flying around 18 days of age, and by 45-50 days they will become independent.
Protecting our remaining native grasslands is important for Common Nighthawks and many other grassland birds to ensure that these species have a place to thrive for generations to come. Next time you are out in the grasslands, listen closely for this bird hunting insects as it circles above, or look out for one perched on a fencepost as you drive down a gravel road. You may just catch a glimpse of one of these unique birds!
Author: Kaitlyn Harrison
All About Birds. (2023). Common Nighthawk. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Nighthawk/overview
American Bird Conservancy. (2023) Common Nighthawk. Retrieved from https://abcbirds.org/bird/common-nighthawk/
Animalia. (2023). Common Nighthawk. Retrieved from https://animalia.bio/common-nighthawk?environment=100
Audubon. (2023). Common Nighthawk. Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/common-nighthawk
Government of Canada. (2019). Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor): COSEWIC assessment and status report. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/species-risk-public-registry/cosewic-assessments-status-reports/common-nighthawk-2018.html#toc9
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