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Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday's Foto

For quite some time I've wanted to do a "Friday's Foto" highlight on the Common Nighthawk. Problem is getting a decent photo of one in Brooklyn. Well, Jen Kepler managed to solve that with her very cool pic of one of this season's "daytime nighthawks".

Neither a hawk, nor completely nocturnal, the Common Nighthawk is actually a member of the bird family Caprimulgidae or "Goatsuckers". That family includes chuck-will’s-widow, pauraque, poorwill and whip-poor-will. Pliny X explains the goat reference -

“Those called goatsuckers, which resemble a rather large blackbird, are night thieves—for they cannot see in the daytime. They enter the shepherds’ stalls and fly to the goats’ udders in order to suck their milk, which injures the udder and makes it perish, and the goats they have milked in this way gradually go blind.”

In reality, they feed mainly on flying insects, which they hunt on the wing at dawn and dusk. Their huge mouth, edged with rictal bristles help channel insects into their gaping maw. This bird's distinctive acrobatic, looping flight interspersed with sporadic glides,  and their long pointed wings accented with a bright, white band makes identification straightforward, even in dusk's waning light.

Nesting in both rural and urban habitats throughout North America, they can be found in coastal sand dunes, grasslands, logged forest, open forests, plains, prairies, sagebrush, rock outcrops and woodland clearings. They also nest on flat gravel rooftops. The Common Night Hawk is the only nighthawk occurring throughout the majority of northern North America. Not much is known about their winter range other than that it is throughout South America.

According to the IUCN Red List this species conservation status is "Least Concern". However, the 2014 State of the Birds Report lists Common Nighthawk as a Common Bird in Steep Decline, and the species rates an 11 out of 20 on the Partners in Flight Continental Concern Score. Across North America, threats include reduction in mosquitoes and other aerial insects due to pesticides, and habitat loss including open woods in rural areas and flat gravel rooftops in urban ones.

The Common Nighthawk's scientific name, Chordeiles minor, means "evening dance"; "smaller”.

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