Nighthawk can consume hundreds of mosquitoes


Published Aug 28, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Scientific name: Chordeiles minor

Characteristics: Medium-sized nighthawk with long, pointed dark wings marked with a white bar near the tips. The undersides have white and black barring and a white throat; there are long bristles near the mouth to help capture insects. The dark upper parts have some white flecking. The notched tail has a distinct white band near the tip. Adults average 11 inches in length. Their flight is often indirect, with darts and quick changes of direction.

Breeding: Lays an average of two eggs in a shallow depression on the ground. The female (mostly) incubates the eggs for 19-20 days; the male feeds the incubating female and the young.

Range: Found throughout most of the continental U.S. during the breeding season; migrates to South America for the winter.

Habitat: Woodlands, urban areas, grasslands and agricultural lands.

Food: Eats insects in flight, from mosquitoes to moths and flying ants to beetles, caught in their large, open mouths.

Comments: A group of nighthawks is known as a “kettle.” Nighthawks catch flying insects in flight and may consume hundreds of mosquitoes a night. The wings produce a muffled booming sound when they pull up out of a steep dive, giving them the name “bull bat” in some areas. Because of their large mouths, these birds were named goatsuckers due to the belief that they suckled goats.

Current viewing: Parts of Central Oregon, especially around sunset and sunrise. Look for medium-sized birds with erratic flight.

— Damian Fagan is an East Cascades Audubon Society volunteer and COCC Community Learning instructor. He can be reached at damian.fagan@hotmail.com.

Sources: Oregon Department of Wildlife Resources and “The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds” by John Terres