Lesser Nighthawk

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A Lesser Nighthawk perches on a rock. Photo by John West.

By DeeDee DeLorenzo

Each spring, the arrival of the Lesser Nighthawk from its wintering grounds in northwestern and central Mexico to northern South America is a sure sign that summer’s just around the corner. They begin arriving between the first part of March and early May with the largest number showing up in April. It’s a summer resident in the western and southern part of Arizona and remains here until heading south and out of the country between early August and late October.

The Lesser Nighthawk is the bird you see swooping around the lights in the Safeway parking lot or Little League ball field chasing flying insects at dusk. When there are young to feed, it may also be observed flying high over a field in the morning hours gathering prey. Its flight is a bit erratic as it flaps and then glides, flaps and then glides, tipping from one side to the other.

About all you can see of this grayish-brown bird in the growing darkness are two white or buff-y oval patches near the tips of its wings. If you manage to find a Lesser Nighthawk in the day, you’ll see that their upper side is actually mottled black, grayish white, or buff. To differentiate the sexes look at the “cut” across the throat – the male’s throat is white and the female’s and immature’s are buffy-colored.

During the day, this bird finds a place to rest under a creosote bush or on a horizontal tree limb. Its coloration enables it to blend in with both the gravelly desert sand and the bark of trees such as the honey mesquite. The Lesser Nighthawk doesn’t build a nest, but rather lays its eggs on the ground in a shallow indention, either in full sun or beneath a bush.

Should you be out in the desert at dusk or dawn, you may hear a trilling sound that resembles a distant running generator. That would be the Lesser Nighthawk — which is also known as the Trilling Nightjar.

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DeeDee DeLorenzo is a retired elementary school teacher who lives in Bullhead City.

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