Species At Risk

Common Nighthawk

(Chordeiles minor)

special concern provincially and designated threatened federally

Common Nighthawk


The Common Nighthawk is a medium-sized bird, 21 to 25 centimetres long, with long, narrow, pointed wings, and a long tail that is slightly notched. Its head and eyes are large for its size. Its plumage is dark brown with black, white, and buff specks, allowing it to blend in with roost sites, which includes gravel beaches, rocky outcrops and burned woodlands. When flying, a wide white stripe can be seen near the tip of the wing. Females can be distinguished by their buff-coloured throat, while males have a white throat.

Action we are taking:


The range of the Common Nighthawk spans most of North and Central America. In Canada, the species is found in all provinces and territories except Nunavut. In Ontario, the Common Nighthawk occurs throughout the province except for the coastal regions of James Bay and Hudson Bay. It winters in South America where it is concentrated in Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.


Traditional Common Nighthawk habitat consists of open areas with little to no ground vegetation, such as logged or burned-over areas, forest clearings, rock barrens, peat bogs, lakeshores, and mine tailings. Although the species also nests in cultivated fields, orchards, urban parks, mine tailings and along gravel roads and railways, they tend to occupy natural sites.


The large-scale use of insecticides may be partly responsible for the widespread decline in Common Nighthawk, since insects are their main food source. Habitat degradation resulting from fire suppression, land use changes in the boreal forest and an increase in intensive agriculture are other contributing factors. The proliferation of terrestrial predators around urban areas, such as domestic cats, striped skunks, racoons and American crows, have likely caused increased nest predation


The Common Nighthawk is a special concern species under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. A management plan will be prepared.

Common Nighthawk was assessed as a threatened species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

What You Can Do to Help the Common Nighthawk

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Common Nighthawk. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • As with all wildlife, don’t disturb or harass the birds or nesting sites. Be respectful and observe from a distance.
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find a Common Nighthawk or nest on your property, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats. For more information, visit: ontario.ca/speciesatrisk.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Populations of many insects are declining around the world. For information on how you can easily give insect that pollinate flowers a helping hand, visit:www.seeds.ca/proj/poll/.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.

Did you know?

Common Nighthawk nestlings begin to fly 18 days after hatching and can capture their first insects near the ground within 25 to 30 days.

Did you know?

Common Nighthawks usually feed at dawn and dusk and visually detect their prey (avian insects) in flight. They have a specialized reflective structure in their eyes called tapetum lucidum that improves their vision in low-light conditions.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.