Photo: Bob Steele/Vireo

Lesser Nighthawk

Chordeiles acutipennis

A denizen of the arid southwest, the Lesser Nighthawk flies low over deserts and grasslands at dusk, capturing insects in flight. Very similar to the more widespread Common Nighthawk, but it is a much quieter bird, without the sharp calls and "booming" flight displays of its larger cousin. Only occasionally do we hear the odd whinnying and trilling calls of the Lesser.
Conservation status Numbers in U.S. holding up fairly well.
Family Nightjars
Habitat Arid scrub, dry grassland, desert washes. Found in open arid habitats including desert, grassland, brushy country. Where it overlaps locally with the Common Nighthawk in the southwest, the Lesser is more common at lower elevations and in drier country.
A denizen of the arid southwest, the Lesser Nighthawk flies low over deserts and grasslands at dusk, capturing insects in flight. Very similar to the more widespread Common Nighthawk, but it is a much quieter bird, without the sharp calls and "booming" flight displays of its larger cousin. Only occasionally do we hear the odd whinnying and trilling calls of the Lesser.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages most actively near dusk, also at night and sometimes by day. Forages mostly in flight, usually flying fairly low, scooping up flying insects in its wide mouth. Also may feed by sitting on the ground at night and fluttering up to catch insects as they pass. Will feed around bright lights at night, taking the insects attracted there.


Eggs

2. White to pale gray, finely dotted with gray, brown, and lavender. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 18-19 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitating insects. If approached, adults put on "broken wing" act to lure intruders away; in case of disturbance, young often move to new spot, able to crawl over ground with surprising speed. Age of young at first flight probably about 3 weeks.


Young

Both parents feed young, by regurgitating insects. If approached, adults put on "broken wing" act to lure intruders away; in case of disturbance, young often move to new spot, able to crawl over ground with surprising speed. Age of young at first flight probably about 3 weeks.

Diet

Insects. Feeds mainly on flying insects, including beetles, moths, grasshoppers, and many others. Will feed heavily on swarms of winged ants or termites.


Nesting

In courtship, male flies about with stiff wingbeats, following female, his white throat puffed out conspicuously as he gives trilling calls. Nest site is on ground, sometimes in shade of small shrub but often in fully exposed open spot. Sometimes on roof of building. No nest built, eggs laid on bare dirt or gravel.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Some northern breeders migrate as far as Colombia, others remain north to central Mexico. In southwestern U.S., lingers late in fall and returns early in spring; a few may spend the winter. May become torpid in cold weather.

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Migration

Some northern breeders migrate as far as Colombia, others remain north to central Mexico. In southwestern U.S., lingers late in fall and returns early in spring; a few may spend the winter. May become torpid in cold weather.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A soft, sustained, tremolo whirring; very difficult to locate.