Nighthawks and Pauraques

May 29, 2017 at 8:12 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, Birds - Texas, Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Southwest Birds, Wildlife) (, )

Common nighthawk

Nighthawks are among the birds of my childhood. Their “buick buick” calls at dusk, the quick wingbeats followed by a glide, remind me of warm Southern nights. I remember being outside when it was nearly dark, and a nighthawk flew past my head.

I took off after it in my bare feet. (My feet were perpetually black in summer from running on pavement).

It landed in the fields behind our house, and to my surprise I was able to pick it up. I carried it around awhile, proud of my trophy. I figured it was a juvenile that didn’t know how to fly very well yet.

Of course, I released it after a few minutes.

I’ve seen male nighthawks courting their ladies. The females were on a post or the ground and the male would make a steep dive, pulling up with a roar of wind through his wingtips. It was an amazing sound.

Here’s a female I saw last month in Osage County, Oklahoma just as the sun had set. The male was flying nearby and you can hear the “roar” as he dives near her off-camera.

The common nighthawk is found all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The lesser nighthawk is found in very southern parts of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of a lesser nighthawk.


I’ve only seen lesser nighthawks at Big Bend National Park in Texas. They tended to run right into my car headlights after insects, and it broke my heart when I hit one.

Notice how big the eyes are. Nighthawks need to see in the dark. The mouths are huge, too, to scoop flying bugs into their maw.

I saw about two dozen common nighthawks on a trip through farmland between Lawton and Frederick, Oklahoma recently. I’ve never seen so many before, many sitting on fence posts or “bob wahr.” One was even high on a phone line.

I also saw relatives of theirs, the common pauraque, in far South Texas several years ago.  We were told exactly where they were resting amid leaves on the ground at Estero Llano Grande State Park. But it still took a minute to see them even though they were literally out in the open. That’s how good the camouflage was.

Common Pauraque

See what I mean?

Common pauraque

Here’s an interesting tidbit from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: Eastern common nighthawks are browner than those from the northern Great Plains, which are silvery gray overall.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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