NYS Breeding Bird Atlas: Common Nighthawk

We finally get to take a look at our last Nightjar, the relatively uncommon Common Nighthawk.

The story of the Common Nighthawk is interesting.  Thoreau in his writings, refers to them as common over the pond at dusk, replacing the Swallows that are there earlier in the evening.  Wilbur Webster Judd in his book “The Birds of Albany County”, refers to the Common Nighthawk as common as the milk carts at dawn in the City of Albany.  So what happened?

This species enjoys bare, rocky land to nest.  In the days of Thoreau there were many small hill tops and rocky outcroppings to satisfy the species needs.  By the early 20th century, tar and gravel was widely used in roofing in towns and cities, which created an artificial landscape which was a great benefit to this species and has been linked to a population increase during this time.  By the latter part of the 20th century, rubberized roofing replaced tar and gravel and once flourishing roof tops were destroyed.  While no doubt a few Common Nighthawks still breed in our cities, they are by no means common.

The 1980-1985 NYS Breeding Bird Atlas shows that this species was widely distributed through out New York State, but heavily concentrated in urban areas such as New York City, Albany, Binghamton, Plattsburgh and especially the area between Rochester and Buffalo.

NYS Breeding Bird Atlas Distriubiton 1980-1985

NYS Breeding Bird Atlas Distribution 1980-1985


The 2000-2005 Atlas however continued to show this species drastic decline in nearly all areas.  However many birds are still reported in urban areas during late August or Early September migration, with upwards of hundreds of birds being sighted.  From my own personal experience in Albany, flocks of 20 to 30 or more are common most evenings during peak flights.  They are often very vocal and are very fun to watch.  In Spring, I do hear the occasional “peent” call and have witnessed birds well into June, but these appear to have been late migrants.

New York State Breeding Bird Atlas Distribution 2000-2005

New York State Breeding Bird Atlas Distribution 2000-2005


You can clearly see the drastic decline of this species in many areas.  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation lists Common Nighthawk as a “Species of Special Concern”, however I think there is clear evidence to list this species as threatened.

Many Nighthawk enthusiasts have hopes to make, what many consider a blight a potential savior for the species.  It is hard to go through any area now, be it urban, suburban or rural without seeing some sort of large box store such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot.  These are often built in open areas or former fields that was suitable feeding habitat for species such as Common Nighthawk.  There have been some efforts by people to create nest ‘platforms’ on these buildings, but it has proven difficult due to the corporate nature of the stores (ie Store Managers, really have very little control over their stores).

The Common Nighthawk was common in Thoreau’s time, and uncommon in ours.  What will future writers have to say about the Nighthawk?

Information used in this was taken from the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas Web Site.  The information is subject to change at any time and should be used with caution.


One response to “NYS Breeding Bird Atlas: Common Nighthawk

  1. Putting nesting boxes on big box stores would be a really good idea. I wonder if one of the chains could be persuaded to allow that throughout the system. Maybe one of the smaller chains would.

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