Species Profile

Common Nighthawk

Scientific Name: Chordeiles minor
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2018
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
COSEWIC Status Criteria:
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This aerial insectivore is a widespread bird across southern and boreal Canada. Its population in southern Canada has declined by 68% since 1970, but the rate of decline has slowed appreciably over the past decade, and the species appears to be quite abundant in suitable boreal habitats. Concerns remain over the effects of human activities and changing climates in reducing food and nest-site availability. The causes of decline are not well known, but include threats that reduce the numbers of aerial insects on which this species forages, which can be attributed to agricultural and other pesticides, and changes in precipitation, temperature and hydrological regimes. An increasing frequency of severe or extreme weather events is also likely impacting this species by reducing its productivity and increasing mortality.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 2007. Status re-examined and designated Special Concern in April 2018.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2010-02-23

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Taxonomy

There are seven recognized subspecies of the Common Nighthawk in North America, three of which occur in Canada. As the differences between them are minor, the three subspecies are described in this document as a single species.

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Description

The Common Nighthawk is a medium-sized bird with long, narrow, pointed wings, and a long tail that is slightly notched. The call, a short, raucous, and nasal “peet,” is quite distinctive. The head is large and flattened, the eyes are large, the bill is small, and the mouth is large. The plumage is dark brown with black, white, and buff specks. In flight, a wide white stripe can be seen across the long feathers that edge the wings. Females can be distinguished from males by the throat band, which is buff-coloured as opposed to white. The tail is brown with fine buff stripes. Males also have a white band near the tip of the tail. The main difference between juveniles and adults is the absence of the white or buff throat band.   The Common Nighthawk can be distinguished from three other nighthawk species that occur in Canada by the absence of long fine feathers around the bill, the presence of a wide white stripe across the long feathers that edge the wings, the shape and colouration patterns of the tail, and the long pointed wings.

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Distribution and Population

The Common Nighthawk nests in almost all of North America, in some parts of Central America, and possibly also in southeastern Columbia.   In Canada, this species occurs in all of the provinces and territories, with the exception of Nunavut. In the eastern part of the country, it breeds in southern Labrador and, albeit extremely rarely, on the Island of Newfoundland. This species is commonly found throughout the Maritimes, with the exception of Prince Edward Island. In Quebec, the Common Nighthawk occurs in the Lower St. Lawrence, although it is not known whether this species breeds on the Magdalen Islands or Anticosti Island. With the exception of the coastal regions of James Bay and Hudson Bay, this species occurs throughout Ontario. In western Canada, the species breeds throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan, and south of the tree line in Manitoba. The species occurs throughout British Columbia, including Vancouver Island, although it is not found in the Coast Mountains or the Queen Charlotte Islands. In Yukon, the Common Nighthawk breeds from the southern part of the territory through to the Dawson region. In the Northwest Territories, the species occurs along the Alberta and Saskatchewan borders and, to the north, along the Mackenzie Valley through to Norman Wells.   The Common Nighthawk winters throughout South America, primarily in eastern Peru and Ecuador, and southern Brazil.   The Canadian population of Common Nighthawks was estimated to be 400 000 breeding adults in 2007, which represents 10% of the global population. In Canada, long-term data gathered between 1968 and 2005 point to a significant population decline of 4.2% per year, which represents an overall decline of 80% over this same period. The latest data (1995 to 2005) indicate an annual rate of decline of 6.6%, which represents a 49.5% population decline over the 10-year period.

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Habitat

The Common Nighthawk nests in a wide range of open, vegetation-free habitats, including dunes, beaches, recently harvested forests, burnt-over areas, logged areas, rocky outcrops, rocky barrens, grasslands, pastures, peat bogs, marshes, lakeshores, and river banks. This species also inhabits mixed and coniferous forests.   The Common Nighthawk probably benefited from the newly-opened habitats created by the massive deforestation associated with the arrival of European settlers in eastern Canada and United States. The appearance of gravel roofs contributed to the expansion of the Common Nighthawk’s habitat in North America.

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Biology

The Common Nighthawk arrives in Canada from early May to mid-June, where it produces one clutch per year. Faithfully returning to their nesting sites, females lay an average of two eggs directly on the ground up to mid-August. The female incubates the eggs on her own. Depending on the region, incubation lasts from 16 to 20 days. During this period, the male feeds the female who broods the eggs continuously. Nestlings remain in the nest from mid-June to late August and are fully developed by the age of 45 to 52 days. The species migrates to South America between mid-August and mid-September.   The Common Nighthawk is an aerial insectivore that feeds on a wide variety of insects at dusk or dawn. It feeds primarily on flying ants and coleoptera, which it locates thanks to its excellent night vision. When insect density is high, the species may feed in groups.   Potential predators of adult nighthawks include Domestic Cats, American Kestrels, and Peregrine Falcons. Eggs and nests are often preyed upon by other predators such as American Crows, Common Ravens, and gulls. The Common Nighthawk has a lifespan of four or five years.

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Threats

The causes of the decline of Common Nighthawk populations are unknown. However, it may be related, at least in part, to the decline of the insect populations on which this species preys. Given the widespread declines observed among other insectivorous bird species, it is assumed that the reduced availability of food sources caused by the extensive use of pesticides is a contributing factor.   Other factors that may have contributed to the declines observed in certain regions include habitat loss and modification, particularly the reforestation of abandoned agricultural fields and harvested forests; fire-fighting efforts; intensive agriculture; and the gradual reduction of the number of buildings with flat gravelled roofs in urban areas.   The increased predator population (specifically, Domestic Cats, Striped Skunks, Raccoons, American Crows, and Common Ravens) may contribute to this species’ decline, particularly in urban areas.   Other possible factors include collisions with motor vehicles and climate change.

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

Contact Person for Recovery Planning

  • Québec: Unité de planification de la conservation - Service canadien de la faune - Chair/Contact -
     Send Email

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

61 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) in Canada (2007-08-29)

    The Common Nighthawk is a medium-sized bird, with a large flattened head, large eyes, a small bill, a large mouth, long slender pointed wings and a long, slightly notched tail. It has dark brown plumage mottled with black, white and buff. In flight, adults have a white patch across the primaries. Seven subspecies are generally recognized in North America.
  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) in Canada (2019-02-12)

    Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is the most frequently seen member of the nightjar family. It pursues and catches flying insects on the wing, and is most active from dusk to dawn. It is extremely well-camouflaged by its mottled brown plumage when perched on the ground or horizontal surfaces. Common Nighthawk is most often seen in flight, when it can be recognized by its distinctive bounding flight, white bar near the end of the wing, and nasal peent call. Note: This COSEWIC assessment was received by the Minister on October 15th, 2018.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Common Nighthawk (2007-12-04)

    In Canada, this species has shown both long and short-term declines in population.  A 49% decline was determined for areas surveyed over the last three generations. Reduction of food sources has apparently contributed to the decline of this species, as with several other aerial insectivores.  Reductions in habitat availability, caused by fire suppression, intensive agriculture, and declines in the number of gravel rooftops in urban areas, may also be factors in some regions.
  • Response Statement - Common Nighthawk (2019-01-11)

    This aerial insectivore is a widespread bird across southern and boreal Canada. Its population in southern Canada has declined by 68% since 1970, but the rate of decline has slowed appreciably over the past decade, and the species appears to be quite abundant in suitable boreal habitats. Concerns remain over the effects of human activities and changing climates in reducing food and nest-site availability. The causes of decline are not well known, but include threats that reduce the numbers of aerial insects on which this species forages, which can be attributed to agricultural and other pesticides, and changes in precipitation, temperature and hydrological regimes. An increasing frequency of severe or extreme weather events is also likely impacting this species by reducing its productivity and increasing mortality.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) in Canada (2016-03-04)

    The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers for the recovery of Common Nighthawk and have prepared this strategy, as per section 37 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the Provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec (Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs), New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the territories of Yukon and Northwest Territories and others as per section 39(1) of SARA. The 60-day period to provide comment on the proposed recovery strategy for the Common Nighthawk (closing May 11, 2015) is extended for an additional 30 days to June 10, 2015.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Banff National Park of Canada (2017-12-12)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Banff National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the park and within the Ya-Ha-Tinda Ranch federal Crown property administered by Parks Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur at these sites.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) and Fathom Five National Marine Park (FFNMP) lie at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. The peninsula is 90 km in length and its most prominent feature is the Niagara Escarpment which runs along the entire eastern edge. Within BPNP, the escarpment forms the Georgian Bay shoreline and is recognized as part of the core area of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  BPNP was established by the federal government in 1987 to protect a representative example of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands natural region. Because of the fragmented nature of the park properties, many of the stresses on the park’s ecosystem originate from outside its boundaries. For this reason, First Nations, local residents, non-governmental organizations, and other groups and land users play an important role in managing, restoring, and protecting the northern Bruce ecosystem. 
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park of Canada (GNP). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GNP.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada (2018-08-01)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits to other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GINPR.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Jasper National Park of Canada (2017-12-12)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Jasper National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Jasper National Park of Canada (JNP). The plan meets the Species at Risk Act action plan requirements (SARA s.47) for Schedule 1 listed Endangered and Threatened species that regularly occur in the Park. Park-specific objectives for species at risk are identified in this plan and represent the site’s contribution to objectives presented in federal recovery strategies. Species at risk, their residences, and their habitat are protected by existing regulations and management regimes in national parks and national historic sites as well as by SARA. The Multi-species Action Plan for Jasper National Park of Canada describes additional measures that will contribute to the survival and recovery of the SARA listed species in JNP. Site-specific objectives are identified to help recover and/or manage the identified species, to be met through a number of recommended management activities. These activities represent the site’s contribution to objectives presented in federal recovery strategies and management plans. These measures were identified based on threats and actions outlined in federal and provincial status assessments and recovery documents, as well as knowledge of the status and needs of each species in JNP. Population monitoring measures are also identified for the species for which management activities at the sites can contribute to recovery objectives.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada (2017-02-07)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site (KNP and NHS), including Kejimkujik National Park Seaside. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur within these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at KNP and NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kootenay National Park of Canada (2017-12-12)

    This Multi-species Action Plan for Kootenay National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the park, within adjacent federal Crown land parcels administered by Parks Canada, and within the boundaries of Kootenai House National Historic Site. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur in these sites.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-11-22)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the four sites: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada (KNP) and other land managed by Parks Canada in the Northern New-Brunswick Field Unit offering adequate habitat for the species targeted in this action plan (Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site of Canada (NHS), Beaubassin – Fort Lawrence NHS, Grand-Pré NHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in KNP and associated NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for La Mauricie National Park and National Historic Sites of La Mauricie and Western Quebec regions (2020-10-06)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for La Mauricie National Park and Canada's national historic sites (NHS) that are part of the Mauricie and Western Quebec Field Unit (MWQFU) applies to the land and waters within the boundaries of La Mauricie National Park (LMNP) and 13 NHSs in Quebec: Obadjiwan–Fort Témiscamingue; Forges-du-Saint-Maurice; Fort Chambly; Fort Lennox; Battle of the Châteauguay; Coteau-du-Lac; Carillon Barracks; Manoir Papineau; Louis-Joseph Papineau; Louis S. St-Laurent; Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site; Sir Wilfrid Laurier; and Sir George-Étienne Cartier. This plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA; section 47) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur on these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in LMNP and on associated NHSs.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada (2017-08-24)

    Backed by the Insular Mountain Range of Vancouver Island and facing the open Pacific Ocean, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada (Pacific Rim NPR) protects and presents the rich natural and cultural heritage of Canada's west coast. Pacific Rim NPR consists of three distinct units, the Long Beach Unit, Broken Group Islands Unit, and West Coast Trail Unit, each offering a range of unique visitor experiences. With significant areas (51,216 ha in total) of old growth, temperate rainforest, coastal dune systems, wetlands and foreshore, and marine habitats, the park demonstrates the interconnectedness between land, sea, and people. These natural wonders are interwoven with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations culture (past and present), and that of European explorers and settlers.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Pukaskwa National Park of Canada (2017-04-28)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Pukaskwa National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the park. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at Pukaskwa National Park (PNP).
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada (2021-10-07)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada applies to all federally owned lands and waters managed by Parks Canada in Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP), including Bead Hill National Historic Site. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the province of Ontario, the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle, and environmental non-government organizations as per section 48(1) of SARA. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at RNUP. In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the 60-day public comment period on the proposed Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada has been extended to 90 days to provide sufficient time for feedback.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016-03-29)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada and Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada (2017-12-12)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada and the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada (WLNP) and the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada (BURNHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at WLNP and at BURNHS.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 (2007-08-30)

    2007 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2017 to 2018 (2018-10-15)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 90 wildlife species and 11 of these were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 90, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 38 wildlife species; of these, the majority (87%) were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 771 wildlife species in various risk categories including 338 Endangered, 183 Threatened, 228 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 18 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, and a total of 59 wildlife species have also been designated as Data Deficient and 197 have been assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act - Terrestrial Species (2008-03-10)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 25, 2008 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 27, 2009 for species undergoing extended consultations.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species January 2019 (2019-01-15)

    The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 580 wildlife species at risk. Please submit your comments by May 13, 2019, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 14, 2019, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry website at: The Minister of the Environment's Response to Species at Risk Assessments.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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