Upland Ground Birds

Common Nighthawk Common Nighthawk
Bombycilla cedrorum


10" (25 cm). A jay-sized bird, mottled brownish-black above and below, perfectly matching the ground. Long notched or square-tipped tail and long pointed wings with broad white wing bar. Male has white throat patch and white subterminal tail bar. Female has buffy throat patch and no tail bar. Flight high and fluttery.


A loud nasal call, peent or pee-yah, heard primarily at dusk.


Open woodlands, clearings, or fields; towns with roosting trees or fence posts.


2 creamy or olive-gray, finely and densely speckled eggs laid on the ground or a roof.

Common Nighthawk


Breeds from central Canada southward to Nova Scotia and through most of United States. Winters in tropics.


This bird has moved into towns and cities, where flat roofs provide abundant nest sites, and railroad yards, vacant lots, and sports fields offer good feeding opportunities. This bird's name is somewhat inappropriate, since it is not strictly nocturnal, often flying in sunlight, and it is not a hawk, although it does hawk, catching flying insects on the wing. On its breeding grounds, the male does a power dive and then, as it swerves upward, makes a booming sound with its wings. Its capacity to consume insects is prodigious. Analysis of stomach contents has shown that in a single day one bird captured more than 500 mosquitoes and another ate 2,175 flying ants.