Spring nighthawks: Acrobats of the bird world

Common nighthawk

The common nighthawk is known for its distinctive "peent" and graceful swoops and dives at dusk. Photo courtesy of Kim Taylor.

By late May, many bird migrants will have arrived and moved through our area on their way to breeding territories further north. Some will even have young by now. However, one bird still making its way through our local stretch of the Mississippi River flyway is the common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor). 

These wonderful birds winter in South America and breed throughout North America. A member of the Caprimulgidae or goatsucker family, nighthawks are medium-sized with long pointed wings. Although similar in size to a kestrel, they are neither hawks nor nocturnal. However, they are commonly seen at dusk and have a hawk-like flying pattern. In fact, nighthawks are one of the most interesting birds to watch on the wing, as they loop around in the sky hunting for insects.

Typically, you'll hear them before you see them. When you hear their distinctive loud peent be sure to look to the skies.