Meet Your Neighbors: Nighthawks

By Jack MacRae

The nighthawks are dining.  They appear at dusk in our October skies, swooping, darting and snatching bugs in their big mouths.  As neotropical migrants, nighthawks are on their way to Argentina where they’ll hang with the gauchos for the winter.

Common nighthawks are slim, medium sized birds with big black eyes, long wings and short legs.  Their feathers are cryptically colored streaks of silvery gray, black, and white.  Their dark wings have prominent white stripes about 2/3 of the way to the tip.

Nighthawks have tiny beaks, but a mighty gape.  They use their cavernous mouth to grab the moths and mayflies that emerge in the evening. Nighthawks and their close relatives fly at high a high speed (10-20+ mph), fast enough to “inhale” their prey without biting, chewing, or tasting.  Their tongue has been described as vestigial.

Once upon a time, at a quaint suburban outdoor music festival, a small flock of nighthawks were attracted to the stage lights.  The birds put on an entertaining aerial ballet as the band on stage played a passable rendition of Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s wonderful tribute to the late, great Duane Allman.  Coincidence? I think not.

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