Cover photo credit: Brian E. Small


Special Concern

“Special Concern” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered or threatened, but may become threatened or endangered due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List

September 10, 2009

Read the most recent assessment report (PDF)

What it looks like

The Common Nighthawk is a medium-sized bird, 21 to 25 centimetres long, with long, narrow, pointed wings, and a long tail that is slightly notched. Its head and eyes are large for its size. Its plumage is dark brown with black, white, and buff specks, allowing it to blend in with roost sites, which includes gravel beaches, rocky outcrops and burned woodlands. When flying, a wide white stripe can be seen near the tip of the wing. Females can be distinguished by their buff-coloured throat, while males have a white throat.

Where it lives

Traditional Common Nighthawk habitat consists of open areas with little to no ground vegetation, such as logged or burned-over areas, forest clearings, rock barrens, peat bogs, lakeshores, and mine tailings. Although the species also nests in cultivated fields, orchards, urban parks, mine tailings and along gravel roads and railways, they tend to occupy natural sites.

Where it’s been found in Ontario

The range of the Common Nighthawk spans most of North and Central America. In Canada, the species is found in all provinces and territories except Nunavut. In Ontario, the Common Nighthawk occurs throughout the province except for the coastal regions of James Bay and Hudson Bay. It winters in South America where it is concentrated in Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

What threatens it

The large-scale use of insecticides may be partly responsible for the widespread decline in Common Nighthawk, since insects are their main food source. Habitat degradation resulting from fire suppression, land use changes in the boreal forest and an increase in intensive agriculture are other contributing factors. The proliferation of terrestrial predators around urban areas, such as domestic cats, striped skunks, racoons and American crows, have likely caused increased nest predation.

Action we are taking

Special concern species do not receive species or habitat protection.

What you can do

Report a sighting

  • Report a sighting of an endangered animal or plant to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit:
  • As with all wildlife, don’t disturb or harass the birds or nesting sites. Be respectful and observe from a distance.


  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Be a good steward

  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.

Report illegal activity

Quick facts

  • Common Nighthawk nestlings begin to fly 18 days after hatching and can capture their first insects near the ground within 25 to 30 days.
  • Common Nighthawks usually feed at dawn and dusk and visually detect their prey (avian insects) in flight. They have a specialized reflective structure in their eyes called tapetum lucidum that improves their vision in low-light conditions.