Birds Vol 1 #5 – The Night Hawk

Night Hawk for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Night Hawk for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. May, 1897 No. 5




HE range of the Night Hawk, also known as “Bull-bat,” “Mosquito Hawk,” “Will o’ the Wisp,” “Pisk,” “Piramidig,” and sometimes erroneously as “Whip-poor-will,” being frequently mistaken for that bird, is an extensive one. It is only a summer visitor throughout the United States and Canada, generally arriving from its winter haunts in the Bahamas, or Central and South America in the latter part of April, reaching the more northern parts about a month later, and leaving the latter again in large straggling flocks about the end of August, moving leisurely southward and disappearing gradually along our southern border about the latter part of October. Major Bendire says its migrations are very extended and cover the greater part of the American continent.

The Night Hawk, in making its home, prefers a well timbered country. Its common name is somewhat of a misnomer, as it is not nocturnal in its habits. It is not an uncommon sight to see numbers of these birds on the wing on bright sunny days, but it does most of its hunting in cloudy weather, and in the early morning and evening, returning to rest soon after dark. On bright moonlight nights it flies later, and its calls are sometimes heard as late as eleven o’clock.

“This species is one of the most graceful birds on the wing, and its aerial evolutions are truly wonderful; one moment it may be seen soaring through space without any apparent movement of its pinions, and again its swift flight is accompanied by a good deal of rapid flapping of the wings, like that of Falcons, and this is more or less varied by numerous twistings and turnings. While constantly darting here and there in pursuit of its prey,” says a traveler, “I have seen one of these birds shoot almost perpendicularly upward after an insect, with the swiftness of an arrow. The Night Hawk’s tail appears to assist it greatly in these sudden zigzag changes, being partly expanded during most of its complicated movements.”

Night Hawks are sociable birds, especially on the wing, and seem to enjoy each other’s company. Their squeaking call note, sounding like “Speek-speek,” is repeated at intervals. These aerial evolutions are principally confined to the mating season. On the ground the movements of this Hawk are slow, unsteady, and more or less laborious. Its food consists mainly of insects, such as flies and mosquitos, small beetles, grasshoppers, and the small night-flying moths, all of which are caught on the wing. A useful bird, it deserves the fullest protection.

The favorite haunts of the Night Hawk are the edges of forests and clearings, burnt tracts, meadow lands along river bottoms, and cultivated fields, as well as the flat mansard roofs in many of our larger cities, to which it is attracted by the large amount of food found there, especially about electric lights. During the heat of the day the Night Hawk may be seen resting on limbs of trees, fence rails, the flat surface of lichen-covered rock, on stone walls, old logs, chimney tops, and on railroad tracks. It is very rare to find it on the ground.

The nesting-time is June and July. No nest is made, but two eggs are deposited on the bare ground, frequently in very exposed situations, or in slight depressions on flat rocks, between rows of corn, and the like. Only one brood is raised. The birds sit alternately for about sixteen days. There is endless variation in the marking of the eggs, and it is considered one of the most difficult to describe satisfactorily.


As you will see from my name, I am a bird of the night. Daytime is not at all pleasing to me because of its brightness and noise.

I like the cool, dark evenings when the insects fly around the house-tops. They are my food and it needs a quick bird to catch them. If you will notice my flight, you will see it is swift and graceful. When hunting insects we go in a crowd. It is seldom that people see us because of the darkness. Often we stay near a stream of water, for the fog which rises in the night hides us from the insects on which we feed.

None of us sing well—we have only a few doleful notes which frighten people who do not understand our habits.

In the daytime we seek the darkest part of the woods, and perch lengthwise on the branches of trees, just as our cousins the Whippoorwills do. We could perch crosswise just as well. Can you think why we do not? If there be no woods near, we just roost upon the ground.

Our plumage is a mottled brown—the same color of the bark on which we rest. Our eggs are laid on the ground, for we do not care to build nests. There are only two of them, dull white with grayish brown marks on them.

Sometimes we lay our eggs on flat roofs in cities, and stay there during the day, but we prefer the country where there is good pasture land. I think my cousin Whippoorwill is to talk to you next month. People think we are very much alike. You can judge for yourself when you see his picture.

Photographed through cage wires.

Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) at National Aviary by Lee

Lee’s Addition:

Nighthawks are in our list of birds that are “unclean.” Both verses are identical in the KJV.

And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckoo, and the hawk after his kind, (Lev 11:16)
And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckoo, and the hawk after his kind, (Deu 14:15)

The Nighthawk is part of the Caprimulgidae – Nightjars Family which has 93 species and is one of our Birds of the Bible. The Nighthawks family is part of the Caprimulgiformes Order which has Frogmouths, Oilbird and the Potoos families.

The Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is a medium-sized crepuscular or nocturnal bird, whose presence and identity are best revealed by its vocalization. Typically dark (grey, black and brown), displaying cryptic colouration and intricate patterns, this bird becomes invisible by day. Once aerial, with its buoyant but erratic flight, this bird is most conspicuous. The most remarkable feature of this aerial insectivore is its small beak belies the massiveness of its mouth. Some claim appearance similarities to owls. With its horizontal stance and short legs, the Common Nighthawk does not travel frequently on the ground, instead preferring to perch horizontally, parallel to branches, on posts, on the ground or on a roof. The males of this species may roost together but the bird is primarily solitary. The Common Nighthawk shows variability in territory size.

This caprimulguid has a large, flattened head with large eyes; facially it lacks rictal bristles. The Common Nighthawk has long slender wings that at rest extend beyond a notched tail. There is noticeable barring on the sides and abdomen, also white wing-patches.

Common Nighthawk by Neal Addy

Common Nighthawk by Neal Addy

The Common Nighthawk measures 8.7-9.4 in/22-25 cm in length, displays a wing span of 21-24 in/54–61 cm, weighs 2.3-3.5 oz/65-98 g, and has a life span of 4–5 years.

Within family Caprimulgidae, subfamily Chordeilinae (Nighthawks) are limited to the New World and are distinguished from the subfamily Caprimulginae, by the lack of rictal bristles.

The most conspicuous vocalization is a nasal peent or beernt during even flight. Peak vocalizations are reported 30–45 minutes after sunset. Croaking auk auk auk vocalized by males while in the presence of a female during courtship. Another courtship sound, thought to be made solely by the males, is the boom, created by air rushing through the primaries after a quick down flex of the wings during a daytime dive.

Sometimes call the “Bull-Bat – due to its perceived “bat-like” flight, and the “bull-like” boom made by its wings as it pulls from a dive.”

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 May, 1897 No 5 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 May, 1897 No 5 – Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for April 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Wood Thrush

Previous Article – The Indigo Bunting

Wordless Birds


Bible Birds – Night Hawks

Birds of the Bible – Nighthawks and Nightjars

Birds of the Bible – Nighthawk and Nighthawks II

Caprimulgidae – Night Hawks

Common Nighthawk – All About Birds

Common Nighthawk – Wikipedia

Nightjar – Wikipedia


3 thoughts on “Birds Vol 1 #5 – The Night Hawk

  1. I am really enjoying the sounds of the birds that you include with each post.
    Thank you for all the details and links to make this a very complete site.


  2. Years ago, my family and I witnessed a flock of nighthawks going after a cloud of mosquitoes late one evening. I was really young at the time but I can still remember seeing them swoop and dive after a gang of nearly invisible bugs. They really are neat looking birds.


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