Any time after mid-August and into early September, naturalists and birders in southern Minnesota are aware that it's nighthawk migration time. In afternoons and early evenings, flocks of these blue jay-sized, dark-colored birds with long pointed, white-patched wings can be seen gliding, diving and circling, feeding on insects in the air and heading south. Having been summer residents throughout Minnesota, the common nighthawks are on their way to winter in South America. Last year, the first migrating nighthawks were seen over the Twin Cities area on Aug. 23. Each year we expect to see large migration flights over Duluth between Aug. 18 and 25; in late afternoons, 1,000 nighthawks per hour could be seen.
The common nighthawk is a wide-ranging aerial forager that is found regularly over many habitat types, including prairie, cropland, woodlands, wetlands and residential and business districts of towns and cities.
Nighthawks have a tiny bill but a wide, gaping mouth. The birds sweep up in their large mouths all types of insects, from big moths and beetles to the tiniest of flies and mosquitoes.