The Common Nighthawk seems a rather inauspicious creature to be proclaimed as the American Birding Association's Bird of the Year. Yet its designation delights me, as one might surmise from my above comments about the species.
Since moving to south Florida I have had interesting encounters with migrating flocks as well as locally nesting nighthawks. Most challenging have been my attempts to capture their airborne images. Their halting, herky-jerky flight pattern guarantees many frames of blurred wingtips and tailtips, or more commonly,open sky.
I am delighted when one tilts just so, to allow the early sun to illuminate its undersides.
It zigs just when I expect it to zag.
As if to spoil my profile shot, it opens its gaping mouth.
It can look like a bump on a rock, confident that its camouflage protects it from view.
Conventionally, it perches lengthwise on branches...
...but then defies convention by performing a high-wire act.
A pair of nighthawks was acting territorial. One swooped down and "boomed" just over my head as I stood in the middle of the gravel road. It repeated the action several times as I moved along, landing down in front of me.
The next morning, Mary Lou was ahead of me as we walked along the edge of the road. Suddenly a nighthawk flew up right in front of her-- it actually flew towards her, then fell to the ground, flopping and rolling as if in agony. It was obviously a distraction display, and the amount of energy that went into it suggested that she had nearly stepped on the eggs (or more likely young birds). I had to set the camera on macro to get these shots, as the bird allowed a very close approach before moving away. We briefly examined the area but did not see any eggs or young-- not surprising, as they can be well camouflaged.
Later in the day, a nighthawk flew up from this nesting site along the edge of the road. Since the eggs are far apart, perhaps the bird was shading them from the sun with her wings rather than sitting on them.
Back on its "nest," the nighthawk, photographed from a safe distance, was almost invisible. Interestingly, they have been known to relocate their eggs if disturbed, rolling them rather than picking them up in their mouth as was once believed.