This is a Common Nighthawk, a bird whose range includes most of the Lower 48 and much of Canada. It is very rate in Alaska. Which is a damn shame, because this is a bug-eating bird almost without peer. This 80 gram bird can eat 25% of its mass in bugs in an evening. That is a lot of mosquitoes.
Nighthawks, like their cousins the Nightjars, feed on the wing. Unlike Swallows and Martins, which also capture bugs in flight, Nighthawks don’t catch them with their bill. Nighthawks feed by opening their mouths and the bugs go straight down their throats. The bill on a Nighthawk is too small to mention. But the mouth size is very impressive. They are a kind of flying vacuum, sucking in flying insects. Despite their name, they don’t forage in the dark. And they are crepuscular, meaning they forage in twilight. And Alaska offers spectacularly long twilight. Lots of food; lots of time for foraging. It would seem a natural fit.
But no, Alaska doesn’t get Nighthawks. We get range expansion from birds like the Rock Pigeon, and Eurasian Starling. In terms of mosquito management, utterly worthless.
It’s something all Alaskans can support: expansion of the Common Nighthawk range to include Alaska. We have the bugs. We have the twilight. We have very few insecticides, which are believed to concentrate and harm Nighthawks. It would add a few hundred more miles to an already epic winter migration – these birds winter in South America – but the rewards should be outstanding for the birds. And for humans who have to suffer through mosquito season.
Join WC in supporting Common Nighthawk range expansion.