Sunday bird: common nighthawk nomming a bug

The last five words of the title were added by the photographer, Stephen Barnard, when he sent me this picture. Barnard is proving an endless source of great nature photography:


And no pedantry about “We’re not sure that it’s really a true bug!” (Hemiptera). The Latin binomial of this bird is Chordeiles minor


  1. Hempenstein
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Is this one frame from a video? If not, how do you set up for it? Or was it just a lucky shot?

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted July 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I was using the motor drive and took about 50 shots.

      • Dave
        Posted July 7, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

        You’re pretty handy with that camera. I’m using the last one as wallpaper. (Of course I’m assuming there’re no licence fees!)

      • Rob Bate
        Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:34 am | Permalink

        Can I repost this photo on the Brooklyn Bird Club facebook page? These birds start feeding over Prospect Park pretty soon.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted July 8, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

        Thx! How far were you from the bird, and did you have a sense that it was after something by the way it was flying, or was it just a good probability given the bug density at the time?

  2. Edward Hessler
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been fortunate to have had nighthawks as neighbors for several years–fewer now, it seems than in the past. How I like hearing them foraging night after night and the reassuring buzz that they pulled out of a dive. What a photograph!

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 7, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Nighthawks have been undergoing a severe population decline in recent years that has scientists and others worried.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 7, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I recall hearing that they are particularly sensitive to pesticides…I could be wrong but I think I remember learning this somewhere. I think we had them I live so I have to remember to listen for them again. I had heard them in the past, especially if I’m outside with my telescope (and hear bats that I always think will bash into me but they never do).

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

          I believe it’s more likely their food source–aerial insects–that’s vulnerable to pesticides, but of course that directly impacts the nighthawks as well.

          Additionally, and like so many of our birds, they’re dealing with habitat loss. Interestingly part of that involves the growing scarcity of gravel roofs, a type which supported large nighthawk populations in urban areas.

          Also I recently read an article about negative effects from crow predation on nighthawk eggs.

  3. Grania Spingies
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Awesome shot!

    And I lament that there are no nighthawks living on my inner city street 😦

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think I have them here either. I mostly have bats but maybe I should start listening for them at night before all the loud insects start up in late summer.

  4. Stephen Barnard
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    The “bug” was probably a Callibetis mayfly. There are prolific mayfly hatches of several species on Loving Creek. The nighthawks and tree swallows love it (and so do I, as a fly fisherman). At times I’ve seen dozens of nighthawks and hundreds of tree swallows feeding over the creek.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted July 7, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Thought you might enjoy THIS Stephen

      See photo to the right from the 1890s. It’s the Brits Richard & Cherry Kearton preparing to photograph a birds nest situated 11′ off the ground. Innovative use of a twig tripod & some gymnastics are involved.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted July 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        That’s cool. When I consider the primitive state of the photography equipment in those early days I’m grateful for the amazing technology we have today.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Great shot, Stephen! As usual. 🙂

      The Common Nighthawk is the ABA’s current Bird of the Year. Lots of interesting info here:

      I got a few shots of one resting during the day a few weeks ago:



  5. Kevin Alexander
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Stephen obviously cropped out the helicopter that the spider was hanging from just so he could call it a bug.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    from that angle it looks like a fish with wings 🙂

    Very flat head too

  7. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Other bird stuff:
    Guillemot eggs are self-cleaning

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Neat story, thanks for posting it.

  8. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Professor Coyne: here is a fascinating photograph of a pair of teapots engaged in their courtship ritual! My brother-in-law’s text, I believe:

    “Males and females are easily distinguished by the differences in size and plumage. Courtship rituals like this can sometimes last for days.”

    • Dave
      Posted July 7, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink


  9. Posted July 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    What an awesome shot! Now I want to see if I can snap a picture of the hawk that lives on roof of my grandmother’s house.

  10. Posted July 7, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    The nighthawk is one of a group of birds called “noghtjars” because their cries jar the night. Back in high school in one of my English classes we were trying to interpret a poem that contained the word “nightjar”. The teacher and my classmates were convinced that this was a reference to being enclosed in “the jars of night”. I tried to point out that this was actually a bird, but to no avail.

  11. Hempenstein
    Posted July 7, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    OK, so I went to see what the difference between a nighthawk and a nightjar is, and find that they’re the same, more or less.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      A nighthawk is one kind of nightjar; the various poorwills are also nightjars. Another term for nightjar is goatsucker. Your class would no doubt have thought that meant tentacled goats…

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

        Oops; make that Joe’s class. 😀

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted July 8, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

          I’ll add that, contrary to their name, nighthawks are often active during the day.

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

            Do you find them rather crepuscular, Stephen? I would say they tend to be so here–crepuscular and nocturnal–though I’m usually only up to witness the evening end of crepuscular. 😀

            But of course, you shot appears to be during broad daylight! I guess those aquatic insect emergences are too good to miss.

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted July 9, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

              They’re partial to the early morning, when the mayflies become active, but feed well into strong daylight.

              • Diane G.
                Posted July 9, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

                I’d sure love to see that. 🙂

  12. ridelo
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    “nomming”? Is that common English? I only read it here.

%d bloggers like this: