|Conservation status||Numbers in U.S. holding up fairly well.|
|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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.
Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
Download Our Bird Guide App
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
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsA soft, sustained, tremolo whirring; very difficult to locate.
Learn more about this sound collection.
How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Lesser Nighthawk
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.
Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
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.