High Park NighthawkWatch

(Not-so-common) Common Nighthawks

Common Nighthawks were once a familiar sight in cities across Canada as they soared high in the air hunting for insects at dusk. Their unique nasal calls, spectacular “booming” courtship dives, and erratic moth-like flight made them a memorable part of summer evenings in Toronto.

However, like most birds that depend on flying insects as their main food source, (e.g. swallows and swifts), Nighthawk populations have undergone steep population declines in recent decades – so much so that the Canadian government has listed Common Nighthawk as "Threatened".

Common Nighthawks are prevalent in urban environments. Before the European settlement of North America, these birds laid their eggs on the ground in forest clearings or rock barrens. After the construction of towns and cities, however, many Nighthawks found that flat gravel roofs also served as ideal nest sites. This penchant for city nesting habitat has contributed to making the Common Nighthawk an iconic urban bird. The species also uses city habitat as important migratory habitat. Indeed, each year thousands of Common Nighthawks congregate near Toronto as they prepare for their southward migration. Toronto’s High Park is one of the best places to view this spectacular phenomenon as it provides a safe green corridor of foraging habitat for hungry birds as well as amazing viewing opportunities for the public.

   Common Nighthawk
   Don Faulkner, courtesy BSC

High Park NighthawkWatch

The Nighthawk Watch program has been discontinued.


Since 2013, Bird Studies Canada has been monitoring the Nighthawks that migrate over High Park. With our partner the High Park Nature Centre, we hope that consistently counting Nighthawks at a time when they travel together in large groups will help to establish the population trend for this mostly elusive species. Common Nighthawks are not active in the early morning when most bird counts occur. They are also heavily camouflaged, and nests are extremely difficult to find.

Truly understanding what is happening with nighthawk populations depends on the efforts of dedicated volunteers. To get involved in NighthawkWatch please contact Bird Studies Canada’s Urban Project Biologist Emily Rondel at: erondel@birdscanada.org


Source: Emily Rondel, Bird Studies Canada

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Content last modified on July 17, 2019, at 04:17 PM EST