Conservation status Declining seriously in numbers in many parts of North America. Causes may include changes in land use and overuse of pesticides. In some areas, nighthawks nesting on gravel roofs have been targeted by increasing urban populations of crows, which eat the eggs.
Family Nightjars
Habitat Open country in general; often seen in the air over cities and towns. Inhabits any kind of open or semi-open terrain, including clearings in forest, open pine woods, prairie country, farmland, suburbs and city centers.
This widespread and familiar bird may hunt by day or night, catching flying insects in the air. Its bounding, erratic flight and angular wings make it unmistakable except in the southwest and in Florida, where two other types of nighthawks occur. Originally nesting on open ground, Common Nighthawks have learned to nest on flat gravel roofs; their nasal cries and 'booming' display dives may be heard over many cities.

Feeding Behavior

Forages most actively near dusk and dawn, also during the day and at night, perhaps especially on moonlit nights. Forages mostly in flight, scooping up flying insects in its wide, gaping mouth. Will feed around bright lights at night, taking the insects attracted there. May rarely take insects from the ground.


2, rarely 1-3. Whitish to pale buff or gray, heavily spotted with brown. Incubation is mostly by female, about 19 days. Incubating bird may shift position during the day so that the sun is always at her back. Young: Both parents care for young, feeding them regurgitated insects. Age of young at first flight is about 21 days.


Both parents care for young, feeding them regurgitated insects. Age of young at first flight is about 21 days.


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


In male's courtship display flight, his wingbeats become even more stiff and choppy as he circles and hovers high in the air, calling repeatedly; then he goes into a steep dive, with a rushing or "booming" sound made by air passing through wing feathers at bottom of dive. Landing near female, he spreads his tail, rocks back and forth, and calls. Nest site is on ground or bare open soil, often in a sandy place; also on gravel roofs, sometimes on top of a stump or other raised object. No nest built, eggs laid on flat surface.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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A long-distance migrant, wintering mostly in South America. Often migrates in flocks, sometimes numbering in the hundreds.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

A loud nasal call, peent or pee-yah, heard primarily at dusk.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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