Bird GuideNightjarsLesser Nighthawk

At a Glance

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.
Nightjars, Upland Ground Birds
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
California, Florida, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas
Erratic, Flap/Glide

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


8-9" (20-23 cm). Very similar to Common Nighthawk, not always identifiable. Pale bar across wing is closer to wingtip on Lesser, and on female Lesser this bar is buff, not white. Lesser often flies closer to the ground, with smoother, less erratic wingbeats, and usually maintains an eerie silence.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Long, Tapered
Tail Shape
Long, Notched

Songs and Calls

A soft, sustained, tremolo whirring; very difficult to locate.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Odd, Trill


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.



2. White to pale gray, finely dotted with gray, brown, and lavender. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 18-19 days.


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.

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.


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


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Numbers in U.S. holding up fairly well.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Lesser Nighthawk. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Lesser Nighthawk

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.