Common Nighthawks Put on Twilight Display

On certain warm, summer nights in Courtenay on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) put on a complicated and beautiful display that surpasses that of the annual Snowbird performance at CFB Comox.

Courtenay Sky
A warm clear night with a bit of a cloud bank building – the Common Nighthawks and Black Swifts put on a show against this backdrop.

Last Sunday evening Common Nighthawks were out in numbers, and birders were reporting them feeding over urban areas in both Parksville and Nanaimo. These larger insectivores were joined by whole squadrons of Black Swifts (Cypseloides niger) over downtown Courtenay.

Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor)
The Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) – the dramatic flashes on the wings, aerial acrobatics,  and the distinctive call make this one of my favourite birds of the summer.
Black Swift (Cypseloides niger)
Black Swifts (Cypseloides niger) definitely outnumbered the larger Common Nighthawks. They were pretty hard to photograph and, like the name suggests, very swift fliers!

I spent close to an hour watching both of these species while out watering the garden. I tried to get some photographs, but it was pretty challenging since they were moving so quickly and the angle of the light was poor. I ended up shooting at 1250 ISO, so the quality isn’t great, but you can get an idea of what they look like from the ground.

Common Nighthawks are becoming less common. They’re listed as Threatened by SARA and Yellow listed by the BC Conservation Data Centrepopulation numbers have dropped dramatically with a possible correlation to a corresponding drop in the insects on which they feed.

I love hearing the nasal “Peeent” of the Common Nighthawk in the early evening and it would be tragic if the population continues to decline. It’s one of my favourite sounds of summer, and I hope that I’ll be able to see and hear them for years to come.

Further Reading:

If you’re interested in reading more about the Common Nighthawk, check out Rob Butler’s article The Not-So-Common Nighthawk. The Hipster Birders also have some amazing close-up photographs of this very cool bird. Check out their post at Featured Feathered Friend: Common Nighthawk. Alex over at The Nemesis Bird has some stunning images of this bird in flight (much better than mine!) in his post Common Nighthawk – Photo Study.