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Common Nighthawk
August 03, 2009


Where is the summer going?

Especially when this hasn't been a typical summer in the Great Lakes Region.

July 1, 2009 became a record for the coolest July 1 ever recorded and July 2009 became the coolest July ever recorded in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

(Coral Bean pictured, Great hummer flower).

Yet, parts of North America is in a heat wave.

Even the Yukon Territory has produced warmer days than we have had here.

I'm finally have to water everything on a regular basis, as our string of timely rains snapped.

Some time while we were in Petoskey, the snapping turtle eggs hatched.

There was a nice hole and a few shell remains where the nest was.

Now if a critter had found the nest, there would've been a big dig and a mess every where.

I have no idea how many there were or how many made it to the pond.

I know that statistically, many will end up in the food chain some where, some how.

Veggies are finally producing some, but well behind schedule.

Even the cucumbers I almost killed off are putting a couple of cukes on my table.

First of the month, time to give your feeders a good cleaning if you haven't yet.

I do find the first of the month works as a reminder for me.

Of course, hummer feeders need to be cleaned much more often.

Hummer visits have really picked up, but there seems to be a lack of butterflies this year.

I've spotted a couple on Monarchs, but have yet to see any kind of swallowtail in my yard or on my walks.

Are you noticing the lack of bird songs?

Me too.

Most birds are done mating and nesting so there is little need for the songs we enjoy.

However, I am currently enjoying another round of fledged robins and Northern cardinals in my yard and at the feeders.

Even with the feather remains of a bird here and there, I should or hope to have a bumper crop of cardinals for this coming winter.

Sure, there are the Red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, grackles and others, but when your favorites come to feed and lessons are given, it is always a joy.

You pretty much know that mating season is over when 4 male cardinals are all feeding at the same time and same location.

One thing nice about the cooler temperatures is there is little need for the AC. to be turned on (another first here, we never had a day in July reach 85 degrees or higher).

That means open windows and all the wonderful (and annoying) sounds around us.

There may be little in the way of singing birds, but hungry fledglings are everywhere to be seen and heard.

From sun up to sun down we enjoy the sounds of feed me, feed me, feed me.

Along with the noise, come the antics young birds display.

It wont be to long and it starts all over with the Goldfinches when the fledged raid the feeders and sunflower patch.

Yes, every season..............indeed, every month offers something for us to enjoy and learn about.

Speaking of learning, this weeks topic is

The mysterious Common Nighthawk.


Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)

Although its name implies that the nighthawk is a raptor like other hawks, it is not.

Instead it eats insects and belongs to the Family Caprimulgidae, the same family as the Whip-poor-will and goatsucker.

It is a small, secretive bird most commonly seen at dusk flying over woods, fields or downtown centers as it catches insects.

It is easily identified by its very distinctive “peent” call more often heard in the evening hours

This dove sized bird has a large head and a comparatively small bill.

Long, deeply pointed V shaped wings in flight, with an average wing span of 21 to 22 inches.

The Common Nighthawk is a cryptic bird most often seen in flight, when it can be easily identified by the white bar across each long, pointed wing.

This mottled gray and black bird has large eyes.

It also has a tiny beak with a large gape, surrounded by stiff feathers called rictal bristles, which help the bird catch its aerial prey.

Although the sexes are similar, the male has a white bar across the tail and a white throat; the female has no tail band and a pale yellowish beige colored throat.


Common Nighthawks are found from Panama to much of Canada.

After spending winters in South America, they return May to early June and leave by mid September.

Common Nighthawks live in a variety of open habitats, from shrub-steppe, grassland, and agricultural fields to cities, clear-cuts, and burns, as long as there are abundant flying insects and open gravel surfaces for nesting.

They have found flat gravel roofs in cities and suburbs to their liking as well.


This species is most active at dusk and dawn, when it forages in flight.

During mating season, the males perform fighter pilot like stunts- plummeting to the earth, pulling up several feet from the ground.

Their wings make a "booming" sound as wind is forced through cupped feathers as they brake out of a fast dive.

Vocalizations include a loud, distinctive call, given in flight.

Average life span of 4-5 years.


Nighthawks are voracious insectivores and have helped to control many pests, including the cotton boll weevil.

Other foods include locusts, flying ants, carpenter ants, beetles, grasshoppers, plant lice, moths, and mosquitoes.

They generally feed at dusk and dawn and occasionally during the day.

In cities, they can often be seen and heard swooping for insects around street lights and lit towers in the evening.

Nighthawks rest during the brightest parts of the day, perched on a tree limb, rooftop or fence rail.

Mating and Nesting :

Monogamous birds.

Once a mate has been chosen and both birds are at the nest site, the male alights near the female, spreads and

fans his tail from side to side while the rest of his body rocks.

The throat is usually fluffed out to reveal a white

patch, which is covered when at rest.

The male utters guttural croaking notes.

The female seems unimpressed.

The male may circle overhead while calling.

If he approaches too closely, the female may take a short flight.

The male then follows and the performance is repeated.

Isn't this similar with people?

Us guys chase until she catches us (face it guys the gal does the catching).

It eventually ends with copulation(cloacal kiss).

Males continue aerial peent and booming displays throughout the nesting period.

Originally nesting on open ground along rivers or other gravelly stretches, the Common Nighthawk has adapted to city life in many areas and will nest on gravel rooftops.

The two eggs are laid directly on sand or gravel with no nest.

The female does most of the incubation, which lasts for 18 to 20 days.

Once the young have hatched, both parents regurgitate insects for them.

The young begin to fly at 18 days and can feed independently at 25 days.

Within one month, they are on their own.

Common Nighthawks do not leave a disagreeable mess around their nest site.

They do not bring in any nesting materials such as mud, sticks or grasses but lay their eggs directly on the bare ground.

The camouflaged eggs and chicks make the nest site nearly invisible.

Once the chicks hatch, they move around and most nest sites are extremely clean with no sign of droppings.

Pretty clever,

Isn't 'Nature' Grand?

Nighthawks rely on camouflage for protection.

They do not defend their nest by attacking people.

If you approach a nest, the female will usually stay very still, hoping you do not see her.

If driven from her nest, she may try to lead you away from her eggs or chicks by faking a broken wing.

The OLE Killdeer ploy.

Young nighthawks that are close to fledging will also remain still, or “unseen.” If you continue to approach within reaching distance, the young bird will quickly run away.

Each adult pair typically raises a single brood each season.

By early August, both male and female young look like adults except that their throat patch is less well defined.

They are lighter and more extensively barred on the underside of their body.

Migration Status:

These long-distance migrants travel to South America for the winter, leaving their northern breeding grounds by September.

They often migrate in flocks, often hundreds or thousands of birds together.

Nighthawks are also one of the latest spring arrivals, reaching their northern most breeding grounds in the Yukon in early June.


In some states, they are listed as Endangered.

As with most species of birds, habitat loss is a major factor.

A 50% decline and greater have been reported on these birds in some areas where open habitat is less common.

Urban nesting nighthawks are vulnerable to predation by house cats (what else is new).

There you have it..........

The 'Common Nighthawk.'

Another one of our Creator's marvelous wonders.

Another piece of the natural puzzle.

Well, it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

"If things are tough, remember that every flower that ever bloomed had to go through a whole lot of dirt to get there"

Barbara Johnson, author

With today's technology, this statement may not be 100 percent true, but the idea or concept rings loud.

When things get tough for you, what do you do?

Do you play the blame game?

Do you hide?

Or maybe simply give up?

That would be to easy to do.

Or, you could be like the flower and push forward no matter what.

Seeds have to die first to bring forth life and to reproduce.

They have to go through dirt and severe weather conditions.

They get walked on, chewed on and ....................

You get the idea.

They keep going

The persevere

They................ are survivors.

We are survivors too, but for many of us we had that taken from us.


You may have had parents or an employer or someone in your life that kept you beat into submission.

To the point where you didn't dare think or make a move.

You see, God gave us the ability and the right to think for ourselves, to be the unique individual he wants you to be.

He gave us the right to make choices, to be a free thinker.

To be the great person you were intended to be.

To choose or not to choose (which is still a choice).

Once we become adults the choice is ours.

We choose to stay at a job we hate and blame others.

We choose to not improve ourselves because others may laugh at us.

You may be afraid to try or fail.

We choose, we, choose, we choose.

We think, we choose.

Pretty much your whole life is dictated on choices you make.

God didn't give you a spirit of fear or timidity, but a bold spirit.

Bold like the flower that dared to grow and flourish no matter what.

He gives to the flower, how much more will he give to you?

You and I, have God given gifts that some where along the line were taken from us or we allowed it to happen.

Do you choose to grow?

Make smart choices?

You and I have the choice to grow, prosper and flower or wither and die.

When you fall, get stepped on, kicked, told you are worthless etc, remember these words.

You are important, you are special, you can be whatever you want to be.

You love yourself.

You can choose today to be like the flowers that bloom and brighten our lives.'

Begin today with a smile and allow it to blossom into another and another.

Take that positive feeling and turn it into a positive thought.

Now Smile some More.

Sure you will get knocked down, but you will get back up.

You must if you are to survive.

Your the best and don't let anyone tell you different.

God's Many Blessings.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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