article and photos by Kathryn Mann
Common Nighthawks can often be found sitting regally on tree branches or fence posts near grass fields that are abundant with cattle or buffalo from late spring through summer in Oklahoma. They spend most of the day very still in a trance-like state, and will not usually fly away unless you get very near to them. At night they become active consuming hundreds of insects in flight.
Common Nighthawk sleeping through the day on a fencepost in northeast Oklahoma
The Common Nighthawk has a large head with big eyes that contrasts with its small bill. Their head and back is a blend of brown, black, and grey. They are brown underneath. When they take flight you will see a prominent white patch on their wings. Males have a white throat and a white tail band near the tip of their tail, while females have a light brown throat and do not have a tail band.
Male Common Nighthawk showing his white wing patches
Common Nighthawks typically live four to five years, though some have lived as long as nine. The population of Common Nighthawks is declining.
Common Nighthawks are not really hawks. They are closely related to Whip-poor-wills who they look almost identical to.
I often walk within a couple of feet of Common Nighthawks as they bake in the Oklahoma summer sun
Nighthawks do not have nests, but lay their eggs on the ground. The male nighthawk feeds the female as she sits on the eggs for about three weeks. When the baby birds are born the female and baby will be fed by the male until the newborns can fly, which is usually about three more weeks.
This is the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks at the Chicago Institute of Art
The Common Nighthawk migrates to South America in late September in flocks that often number in the thousands.