Q&AZ: Where Do Lesser Nighthawks Spend The Winter?

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Monday, June 3, 2019 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, August 26, 2019 - 3:26pm

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A lesser nighthawk
Bruno Struck/Audubon Photography Awards
A lesser nighthawk.

This time of year, Arizona and Mexico residents might spy a graceful lesser nighthawk hunting insects at dusk. One listener wondered where these birds go for the winter.

Despite their name, lesser nighthawks are not raptors; they're insect-foraging birds known for their stone-like camouflage, white-striped wingtips and trilling song.

Lesser nighthawks tolerate extremes of heat and cold quite well, and even roll their eggs into shady areas to beat the heat.

They migrate to follow the food, said Cathy Wise, education director at Audubon Arizona.

"Usually around October, we start seeing fewer and fewer and they, they migrate south again. And the lesser nighthawks migrate to Mexico and Central America," Wise said. 

Wise said the birds, which are a type of nightjar, return to central Arizona in mid-to-late March, as temperatures warm and insect productivity increases.

Lesser nighthawk numbers are stable, but, as insect eaters, they face threats from pesticides and insecticides. 

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