They maneuver to catch aerial insects, especially ants dispersing on wings.
Look for the tell-tale white patches on outer wings.
We eat dinner with binoculars in hand while searching for nighthawks.
The scene from our deck looks out over a river and we watch until dusk.
Common Nighthawk migration is starting and birders have already seen nighthawks in New England. Each year at this time we get excited by the prospect of nighthawk migration, and look for and record our sightings. We are lucky to live on a river corridor (actually a dammed up portion of the river which creates a large pond) because river corridors are good migration routes for nighthawks who eat the flying insects often found over water.
There is an official nighthawk count that comprises southern NH and the upper two-thirds of MA. If you live in these areas, try and watch for the nighthawks and enter your data at their website, click here. The more we learn about the migration routes, numbers, and breeding habitat of these wonderful birds, the better the chance for protecting them.
Here are some tips for seeing migrating Common Nighthawks:
1. Look during the later afternoon to early evening hours, from about 4 pm to 7:30 pm.
2. Look north, as they generally move from north to south.
3. Get comfortable, use a chair if you can, you will be looking for quite a while. Tuck your elbows in, it is less tiring and steadier to hold binos that way.
4. Nighthawks often move along river corridors
5. Note if there is an ant hatch. Nighthawks are attracted to, and eat, dispersing ants who rise up in clouds.
6. Study the photos above, to learn nighthawk shape. Often you will only see distant birds with long pointed wings, flapping rather slowly. When feeding, nighthawks fly erratically. When migrating, they move more directly and may even rise up on a thermal sometimes.
Happy Common Nighthawk watching!