Nocturnal Hunters: The Nighthawks

They have strange names – goatsuckers, frogmouths, potoos, pauraques, querequetes, so what are these strange creatures? Well, they belong to the nighthawk and nightjar family

These bird species sweep through the skies with gigantic mouths wide open, scooping up flying bugs. Stiff, bristly hairs encircle their mouths, like a cat’s whiskers. These bristles may help funnel food into their mouths, or may help them sense insects nearby.

Nighthawks hunt at dusk, night, or dawn. During the day, they use their cryptic mottled brown colors to hide. Their feathers camouflage them perfectly against tree branches. The nighthawk called the potoo adds to the illusion by pointing its head straight up in the air, with its eyes squeezed shut, mimicking a pointy tree branch.

Nighthawks also blend perfectly into the colors of leaf-littered ground. Many nighthawks lay their eggs directly on the ground- their brownish feathers make the incubating parent almost impossible to see. Most nighthawks are best recognized by their voices- the North American nighthawks such as the Whip-poor-will, Poorwill, and Chuck Will’s Widow are named for the sound of their calls.