Aug 052013

15 years or more ago I was out in the Colorado woods when I stumbled upon a Nighthawk. Normally I see these birds flying high overhead, doing us all a favor by clearing the skies of bugs. This bird was down, in amongst the trees, and was feinting a broken wing … along one log, up into on a tree branch. Quite fascinating. Moments later my attention was drawn away from the bird (and it’s impressively pathetic progress from tree to tree) by a chick at my feet. This chick was slowly walking away, hoping to go unnoticed. I’ve never forgotten that brief but enjoyable encounter.

Broken Wing Feint

Mother Nighthawk feinting a broken wing to distract from her nest / chicks.

More recently, when bat monitoring by a nearby pond down on the flatlands, I get a treat as large numbers of these birds fly overhead. Sitting quietly next to the water’s edge I not only get to enjoy the birds flying low over the water, but they casually breeze mere feet over my head. Most people I try describing this to don’t even know what a Nighthawk is, and I feel very lucky to have this uncommon experience.

So when in the woods recently and a large bird flew up from the ground I knew to stop dead. Nighthawk? Chick? I looked down, and for a while I saw nothing. Eventually my eyes came to this nest, right below me. I call it a nest, but really it’s nothing more than a scrape, a clearing in the duff.

Nighthawk Nest with Eggs

Nighthawk Nest with Eggs. Nothing more than a scrape.

I didn’t want to cause the mother stress, so I left as soon as I’d taken the photo. She was coming back around, and trying to distract me with her broken wing feint (above). I wanted her to beleive she’d succeeded, so I followed her away & left.

A week or so later I went back to the site. What a pleasure to see these two little fur-balls within a foot of the original scrape. As I’ve watched them I’ve enjoyed the striking difference in their color. I don’t know if they are different sexes, or if the color is something else.

Young Chicks

Furballs aka Nighthawk Chicks

Yet another week or few, and look what a difference! Now feathered, and looking less like fur-balls and more like small Nighthawks. See the color difference? Size difference? I think they are in the same position as the photo above.  These guys are starting to show that wide bug-swallowing mouth:

Nighthawk Chicks

Nighthawk Chicks starting to look like small Nighthawks…

Another week, and they were gone. That said, they could’ve been feet away and maybe I wouldn’t have been able to see them.

What an experience to treasure. Fascinating birds, wonderful behavior.

  • Ladywolf46

    How I loved reading a story about a nighthawk, one of my favorite birds!! I remember them from my childhood, hearing them at dusk, but never knew what they were. A few years ago, that memory came to me, and I realized that I, sadly, have not heard that sound ever since my childhood years. But I googled birds of the night because somehow, I did surmise it was a bird I was hearing. Nighthawk came up. Would you believe that just two years later, I began hearing one every night, and came to watch him flitting g around in the darkening sky looking for bugs!! He has been enchanting me for several years, and did return this year in May, but suddenly, he is gone as of three weeks ago, and I really miss hearing him. Too early for migration, so I wonder what happened to him, and if I will ever hear/see one again. I had some very close encounters with this nighthawk; he is dearly missed!

  • Adam Jack

    Hey Ladywolf46 thanks for the comment. I am a believer that when you open your mind and senses to a given species you are in far greater a position to encounter it. Sometimes I’ve set (realistic) “wildlife goals” for what I want to see, such as Bobcat … and seen them within a couple of months.

    I hope you get to experience your Nighthawk (or it’s progeny) again.