Common nighthawk Common nighthawk

Fun Critter Facts

One of three species of the family Caprimulgidae (nightjars or "goatsuckers") that have been documented in Wyoming. (The others being the lesser nighthawk and the common poorwill.) The common nighthawk is a medium-sized, long-winged bird (about a 24 inch wingspan) with a very short (but wide) beak and large eyes. Nighthawks and other members of the family have very short legs, which are nearly useless in walking.

- Members of this family are crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) or are active at night.  During the day, the bird can often be found roosted on the tops of wooden fence posts, or in areas of sparse vegetation on the ground.  They are wonderfully cryptic, and may be approached very closely before they take flight if one is careful.  There common name is derived from their propensity for feeding in low light conditions and their vague resemblance to hawks.

- Caprimulgids were once thought to steal the milk of goats, hence the name goatsucker.  The feed exclusively on flying insects, which they capture in flight with their wide mouths.  Feeding occurs primarily at dusk and dawn. 

- Common nighthawks nest in open areas on bare ground or gravel, laying one to two heavily patterned, camouflaged eggs. Young hatch after about 18 days, are fed by both parents, and are in flight and feeding themselves by about 25 days.

- A few members of this family enter a period of torpor during winter months, similar to hibernation in mammals.  They hide themselves in rocks and have long periods of inactivity.  The common poorwill displays this behavior and there is some evidence that common nighthawks may occasionally enter a state of torpor.  Common nighthawks migrate in large flocks annually from summer range to winter ranges in the south, some as much as 4500 miles. This migration is one of the longest in the western hemisphere.

- In rural America, especially in Appalachia, this bird is often referred to as a "bull bat," derived from the fact it is active and flying when bats are active, and the "booming" or roaring sound (similar to the bellow of a bull) produced by wind passing through the male nighthawk's primary wing feathers during diving courtship displays. The call of the nighthawk is a rapidly repeated nasal peeent! 

Common nighthawk
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