Plants and Animals

Chordeiles minor Common nighthawk

species photo
Aaron Kortenhoven
species photo
Aaron Kortenhoven

Key Characteristics

Common nighthawks are a medium-sized, well-camouflaged bird with large eyes. When in flight they have long slender pointy wings. This species is most easily recognized during summer months by its high erratic flight pattern while hawking insects over cities and open country with its telltale nasal “Peeant” or “Cherr-upp”. They are often seen flying around dusk. Common nighthawks are difficult to see while roosting due to their excellent camouflage.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Crawford 5 2023
Otsego 1 2021

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Common nighthawks require large open areas bare of vegetation for nesting. These areas can include recently cleared forests, recent burns, gravel pits, cultivated fields, beaches, and in cities, large flat building roof tops. Historically they were highly dependent on a fire-adapted landscape for nesting habitat.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Common nighthawks benefit from prescribed burns, which create ideal conditions for this ground nesting bird. Fire suppression across the state is the most likely factor in habitat loss for common nighthawks. Common nighthawks are strictly insectivorous birds and the effects of pesticides on flying insects has a great impact on their food availability. Avoid pesticide application in and adjacent to areas being managed for this species.

Active Period

Breeding from fourth week of May to first week of July

Migration from third week of August to fourth week of September

Migration from fourth week of April to fourth week of May

Survey Methods

Scanning the sky and listening for their characteristic call one hour before and one hour after dark is the best method for detecting this species.

Meander search or point count

Survey Period: From fourth week of May to first week of July

Time of Day: Dusk


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Bent, A.C. 1940. Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 176. Life Histories of North American Cuckoos, goatsuckers, hummingbrids and their allies Orders Psittaciformes, Cuculiformes, Trogoniformes, Coraciiformes, Caprimulgiformes and Micropodiiformes. United States Government Printing Office Washington.
  • Brewer, R., G. A. McPeek, and R. J. Adams Jr., eds. 1991. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing. 650pp.