Posted by: atowhee | May 31, 2010

Daytime Nighthawks and Other Malheur Moments

I  blogged earlier about Common Nighthawks and their rictal rectitude, the built-in scrubing brush. Before this weekend in Malheur I had never been in a place where nighthawks of any kind were so common and evident.  Although most accounts of the nighthawk claim it hunts at dawn and dusk, I can show you pictures of the birds hunting at 10 AM, Noon, 2Pm, 4pm…as well as dawn and dusk. Right now the Malheur nights are still cold. You want flying bugs, you gotta hunt when the temp is above 50 degrees.  Thus this large nightjar was aloft with the Forster’s and Black Terns, five swallow species we saw and the hundreds of flycatchers–all after the huge mosquito hatch and other flying insects.  Today even the Lewis’s Woodpecker was consistently fly-catching, like an overgrown warbler or phoebe.

I’m kidding about the mouth open.  You can’t really tell from my vague photo.  That pale line is the bird’s chin stripe of white.  It’s not the open mouth inside the ring of rictal bristles.  Nighthawks do fly around with open mouths, relatively large mouths at that.  One name for the nightjar family has been “frogmouth” and another is “goatsucker.”  Both reflect the reality of the nightjar family’s over-sized maws.

The Common Nighthawk breeds over much of North America. It winters from Ecuador to Argentina.  The bird has special optic organ to help it see in low light.  The long, thin wings seen in these photos give the bird speed and agility on the wing.  The insect sees the bird, the bird sees the insect and the flight race is on.  Much is NOT known about this nighthawk and other nightjars.  This species seems to be doing OK, even breeding in many urban areas and feeding at night around bright lights.

The Common Nighthawk weighs less than 3 oz. on average.  Its wingspan is two feet, its body length less than ten inches.  The long and slender wings, the bouyant and energetic flight give it the aerial manner of a large dragonfly.  It is swift, elegant, mercurial.  The “peent” calls are more warning than mere message.  Its old-fashioned nickname of “bullbat” is somehow appropriate.  Even among the other daylight swoopers, the terns, swallows, Franklin’s Gulls, these Nighthawks stand out.

The wing to body length ratio is about 2.5 to one.  For a more ordinary bird, say a Robin, the ratio would be 1.7 to one.  For a non-migrant, Spotted Towhee, it’s only 1.2 to one.  The Peregrine barely has a larger wing ratio, 2.7 to one.


From upper to bottom right: Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron.  Great Horned Owl at Benson Pond.  Barn Swallow.  Soaring Golden Eagle, part of a three-eagle kettle over Hwy 205 north of Krumbo Road.

Here’s my post with Memorial Day’s species list.

The American Bittern was heard but not seen at Buena Vista Ponds.

Here’s an earlier post on Waxwings at Malheur.


  1. […] Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Daytime Nighthawks and Other Malheur Moments […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: