Monday, June 04, 2007

Common Nighthawk

The common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) belongs to a groups of birds known as nightjars which are also reffered to as goatsuckers a name derived from an old wive's tale that they sucked the milk from goats. When I was a kid they were known to us a "bullbats". Mostly active during the early morning and late evening they feed on all sorts of flying insects such as flies, mosquitoes, beetles, grasshoppers, moths, and butterflies. On this day I was fortunate to witness the courtship ritual being performed by a male common nighthawk towards a female. The male began by approaching the female and performing a rocking motion while at the same time puffing out its throat displaying a large white patch. I was able to get a short (grainy) video of this. Afterwards he flew and begin circling over her and then carried out his diving aerial display. He would fly straight up into the blueness of the sky, stall and then plunge headlong like a stone. Moments before it appeared it was going to strike the ground it would arc upwards sharply. This arcing motion causes air to rush though its wing feathers producing a "HOOOOOV" sound. I was unable to record this, but found a sound recording which begins with the "peent" call and is followed by this "HOOOOOV" or "booming" sound. A cool observation to say the least.

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Blogger Camera Trap Codger said...

Neat observation on a neat bird. There are many species of nightjars in S and SE Asia, and some have the habit of resting on the roads at night. They fly up in the headlights at the last moment, but somehow avoid being hit. A couple years ago we counted over 100 as we drove across the countryside in Burma. Didn't know they could be so common.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Hugh Griffith said...

Very nice picture, and the video is fun to watch. When I lived in Toronto, that "peent" made the early summer nights come alive. There would even be nighthawks among the skyscrapers downtown. The greatest, almost dream-like experience with nighthawks I had was at the University of Texas in Austin. It was a conference in June, and at night there were huge numbers of them circling the university's landmark tower, consuming the insects drawn by the floodlights. They were illuminated orange, like sparks from a fire.

I have read that they are in decline, yet another sad symptom of how things are going.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Jace Stansbury said...

Thanks for the comments guys. This bird has always been a favorite of mine. That "peent" call reminds me also of summer days when I was young. There were several that nested on top of a local school that had a flat gravel roof. We would watch them late in the day as they fed over the school yard.

8:04 PM  

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