Lesser Nighthawk

The Lesser Nighthawk is highly camouflaged and stay under-cover during the day and soar the skies when the sun starts to go down and the heat lessens. These Hawks fly almost like a butterfly on their buoyant wings in the night sky with their mouths open, gulping down flying insects and bugs. A white bar flashing across the wings and an echoing gurgled laugh in the clear night skies of the deserts marks the presence of these majestic birds.

About Lesser Nighthawks

Lesser Nighthawks, like other Nightjars, have an extraordinary ability to deal with extreme cold and extreme heat. When the atmospheric temperature drops to extreme lows, these hawks very uncannily shut down and got into a sleep-like condition until the temperatures become normal. When the heat increases, these birds face the wind with their bills open to let the wind enter their mouth and cool them down.

The binomial name for these hawks is Chordeiles acutipennis. They are from the family of Caprimulgidae and are identified as Nightjars. They are medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular birds in the subfamily Caprimulginae and in the family Caprimulgidae, characterized by long wings, short legs, and very short bills.

A very interesting thing about Lesser Nighthawks is that they live do not have nests. They live and lay eggs on the bare grounds, without even laying down a single blade of grass. The eggs are exposed and the survival of the eggs solely depends upon their camouflaging properties. However, the sun is too strong and the heat is at its peak, the female Hawks roll the eggs to shaded places like the shade of a rock or under vegetation. Don’t these majestic nest-less birds that rule the night sky with their flashing white bars on the wing sound particularly interesting? Let’s learn a little more about them!

● Lesser Nighthawk Photos, Color Pattern, Song
● Lesser Nighthawk Size, Eating behavior, Habitat
● Lesser Nighthawk Range and Migration, Nesting


Lesser Nighthawk Color Pattern

Lesser Nighthawks are desert-dwelling birds and have a life cycle that needs a lot of camouflage. Thus, these birds have the kind of color pattern that easily blends into their surroundings.

These Hawks camouflage well with their shades of browns and grays. During their flight, a distinct light-colored bar can be seen across their wings that are usually not visible when they are resting. The wing bar is very distinctively white in the male birds and cream-colored in the female birds. These beautiful Hawks also have a white stripe across the front of their necks. The male birds have an additional white stripe on their tails. Both the sexes have a scaly pattern throughout the whole body that makes them look fairly fierce while in flight.

Description and Identification

Lesser Nighthawks are camouflaged perfectly during the day and thus spotting one is a huge task. The best time to see these birds are the evening time when the heat starts to go down with the sun and these birds come out for their ritualistic night sore. Similar species include other Nightjars like the Common Nighthawk, Common Poorwill, and Common Paraque. The closest to Lesser Nighthawks, of all these species, are the Common Nighthawks that have a very similar appearance to the Lesser Nighthawks. The only way to distinguish between these two species is the stark
white stripe that runs across the neck of Lesser Nighthawks and is missing in the Common Nighthawks.

The male and female Lesser Nighthawks are very similar in appearance. However, the wing-bars in the males are more bright white in color, and in females, it is cream-colored. Female Hawks also lack the unique white stripe on the tail that the male Hawks possess. The whitetail stripe majorly helps in distinguishing males from females.

Lesser Nighthawk Song

Lesser Nighthawks aren’t particularly songbirds, thus they do not really sing. However, they make a soft, sustained, tremolo whirring that qualifies as song and is very difficult to locate as these birds are built to stay more under-cover.

These birds also have some unique calls that establish their presence in the night sky. In-flight, they make a bleating whinny that almost sounds like a gurgled laugh, followed by a low muffled trill.

During the breeding season, these Hawks give out calls from the ground or even perch on desert vegetations. This call sounds toad-like and has a somewhat eerie trill that lasts for around 7-13 seconds.

Lesser Nighthawk Size

Lesser Nighthawks are small Nighthawks considering the size. They are probably smaller than most other Nighthawks. Relatively, Lesser Nighthawks are somewhere between a Robin and a Crow. Lesser Nighthawks are particularly larger than Violet-green Swallows and smaller than Barn Owls.

These birds measure about 7.9-9.1 inches (20-23 cm) in length and weigh about 1.6-1.8 ounces (45-50 g). They have a wingspan of 21.6 inches (55 cm). The male and female Hawks are almost similar in size.

Lesser Nighthawk Behavior

Lesser Nighthawks like any other Nightjars are nocturnal Hawks. They sore the skies at night when the temperatures are lower than the day times. These Hawks patrol the night skies alone or sometimes in groups. They alternate between snappy wing beats to fast flutters and stable smooth glides with their wings held out in a V shape. Lesser Nighthawks frequently skim through the tops of shrubs and trees in flight. They fly with their mouths open to quickly catch and gulp down swarms of flying insects and bugs. These Hawks primarily forage dusk to dawn, when the heat is low.

During the daytime, when the sun is scorching and the heat is at its peak, these birds stay under-cover, camouflaging on trees, shrubs, and the ground. They perch horizontally on tree branches that provide more favorable structures to blend into the surroundings. Even though they have tiny feet, they comfortable walk on the ground and the tiny feel rather helps them move quietly coping with the burning in the mid-day times.

These birds have uncanny capabilities to handle both extreme cold weather and extreme heat. During summer middays, when the heat is on the peak, these birds turn towards the flowing wind and hold their mouths open to let the wind inside their mouths and cool them down. But when, during the nights, the temperature drops extremely and the cold weather becomes deadly, these birds completely shut themselves down and go into a sleep-like state known as Torpor where even their metabolic processes become pretty slow and stay like that until conditions improve male birds start courting Female birds in the early spring or summers. Courting males puff up their white throats and pursue females in flight. Though males dive after females during courtship their wings do not produce a boom like the wings of Common Nighthawks. The pairs are monogamous and stay together for the breeding season or sometimes even longer than that.

Lesser Nighthawk Diet

Lesser Nighthawks forage during the dusk and the dawn when the temperatures are neither extremely cold nor extremely hot. These Nightjars fly with their mouths open as a foraging practice and watch flying swarms of insects and bugs and gulp them down during the flight. Despite a very tiny bill, these birds have very wide mouths. The insides of these birds’ mouths are lined with fine hair that favors trapping insects.

Even though Lesser Nighthawks primarily catch their prey in flight, they also sometimes hop on the ground, probing for food and thus picking up insects from the ground. Their primary diet includes flies, mosquitoes, moths, June bugs, leafhoppers, and moths.

Lesser Nighthawk Habitat

Lesser Nighthawks are primarily desert-dwelling birds. They inhabit deserts with scrubby vegetation along with dry washes and even agricultural fields. They seek out areas with swarms of insects as those are their primary diet. Thus areas around street lights and above lakes are ideal for them for foraging. Generally, these Nightjars are found in lower elevations but they have been found up to the 4000 feet elevations in the Chisos Mountains of Texas. Lesser Nighthawks usually winter in the lowlands of Central America where they seek out open woodlands, scrub, marshes, mangrove swamps, and beaches.

Range and Migration

The breeding range for the Lesser Nighthawks is not very wise. It includes open country from the Southwestern United States through Central America to tropical South America. Being a desert dweller primarily, these birds do not travel very long distances. However, these birds are Semi-migratory in nature. They do move around a bit for their wintering phases. During the winters, Lesser Nighthawks retreat from the United States and northern Mexico. Occasionally single birds may be found overwintering. These Nighthawks are also occasionally found as a vagrant to
the U.S. Gulf Coast states to Florida.

Lesser Nighthawk Lifecycle

The breeding seasons for the Nighthawks are from the early springs through the summers. During this time, the monogamously paired Lesser Nighthawks breed. The female lays a clutch of only 2 eggs. The eggs too have excellent camouflaging properties as the colors of the eggs are clay brown with fine gray and purple spots. These eggs measure about 1.0-1.2 inches (2.5-3 cm) in length and 0.7-0.9 inches (1.8-2.2 cm) in width. The incubation period for the eggs is 18-19 days and the hatched young ones are covered in down with their eyes open. The nestling Nighthawks have the ability to take short walks around the nesting sites after 1 or 2 days of hatching. However, they cannot fly or feed themselves until they are at least 21 days old.


Lesser Nighthawks do their unique kind of nesting; however, they do not actually build nests. The female Hawks lay the eggs on the ground often in areas with a small pebble. They have a tendency to place the eggs on the north side of a small bush or overhanging branch either in full sun or partial shade. But sometimes they may also nest on rooftops.

Laying eggs on the bare ground without even a blade of grass around is a tough job. Thus the females do anything and everything to protect the eggs. Even though the eggs are barely noticeable as they blend into the ground well, the female Hawk sits on the eggs if there is a sudden danger and does not fly away until the danger is literally above her head. During summers, when the heat is too much, the female Lesser Nighthawks are known to roll around the eggs to a better-shaded place such as rock shadows and under the small shrubs.

Anatomy of a Lesser Nighthawk

Lesser Nighthawks have the particular anatomy of the Nightjar family. These small birds look lean while flying. However, during resting, these Hawks look more plump, round, and stocky. Lesser Nighthawks have a small body with a tiny head and a very small thin bill that is nearly invisible. Even though the bill is very tiny, these birds have a wide mouth with a fine lining of hair inside that helps them catch insects. The feet are also very significantly small. The wings of these Nighthawks are rounded and the tail is fairly long and notched.

Final Thoughts

Lesser Nighthawks are majestic little desert-dwelling nocturnal birds. These birds have a very particular kind of diet and habitat. These birds are locally common and the population has increased a good 15% since the year 1970 despite their rugged nesting practices. Lesser Nighthawks thus come under the low concerned category of bird species. However, these Nightjar Hawks are not easy to survey because of their nocturnal lifestyle. So naturally, there is some uncertainty surrounding their population size and trends.


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At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for IdentifyingLesser Nighthawks

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Lesser Nighthawks are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Lesser Nighthawk Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Lesser Nighthawk. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders ForLesser Nighthawks

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Bird HousesForLesser Nighthawks

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. If you spend a little extra money on bird houses, it will be well worth every penny and they’ll look great.

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