Chordeiles minor minor, C. m. sennetti

Status:  Common regular spring migrant statewide. Common regular breeder statewide. Abundant regular fall migrant statewide.

Documentation: Specimen: minor, UNSM ZM 10632 Child’s Point, Sarpy Co 22 May 1911; sennetti, UNSM ZM6253 Indian Creek, Sioux Co 5 Jul 1901.

Taxonomy: Nine subspecies are recognized, seven in North America and two farther south (Gill and Donsker 2017). The northern subspecies are: minor of central and southern Canada and the eastern USA, hesperis of southwest Canada and the western USA, sennetti of south-central Canada and central and north-central USA, howelli of the west-central USA, henryi of the southwest USA and north-central Mexico, aserriensis of southeast Texas and northeast Mexico, and chapmani of the southeast USA.

The northeastern USA subspecies minor is known to occur westward to central Nebraska (AOU 1957), but may currently occur further westward as an urban dweller nesting on flat, gravelly rooftops.  The state’s open grasslands (most of the state except for the east) are occupied by the smaller and paler plains subspecies sennetti (Haecker et al 1945, AOU 1957).

Bruner et al (1904) stated that a “rufous” form occurred only in ponderosa pine parkland in Sioux Co, referring to it as henryi. AOU (1957) and Brigham et al (2011) describe the range of henryi as breeding in mountains of southern Colorado southward; it seems unlikely that the rufous birds in Sioux Co are henryi. Another possibility is howelli; its range is described by Brigham et al (2011) as “Breeds in southern Great Plains from central Colorado and w. Kansas south to ne. New Mexico…”, and AOU (1957) cites a similar distribution; neither would include Nebraska, but this range is closer to Nebraska than that of henryi. Nevertheless, Pyle (1997) describes henryi as having a “cinnamon appearance”. The western subspecies hesperis has occurred in Hamilton, Kansas (AOU 1957), suggesting that western forms might indeed reach Nebraska.

It is possible that habitat changes during the last 75 years have significantly altered subspecific distribution. Mays et al (2019) stated “habitat fragmentation due to agricultural expansion resulting in population isolation” had occurred in therir study area in South Dakota and Nebraska; Common Nighthawks nest on gravel rooftops in urban areas isolated by surrounding agricultural landscapes that have replaced the original grasslands and that gene flow between these urban areas might consequently be restricted. These authors found through genetic analyses that there was indeed a clear lack of mixing of the haplotypes occurring in the four urban areas sampled, although the authors did not discuss possible relevance of their data to subspecies distribution.

Spring:  Apr 10, 10, 11 <<<>>> summer (southeast)
Apr 26, 29, May 2 <<<>>> summer (west)

Arrival is somewhat earlier in the east than in the west; this interval has been estimated at about two weeks (Gates 1966), and may be related to different subspecies, with eastern minor perhaps arriving earlier than western and central sennetti. Early dates in the east are in the south-central counties in mid- to late Apr.  In the Panhandle, arrival is in early May, although there is an earlier report 18 Apr 1995 at Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co.

Concentrations of spring migrants are rarely seen, although 31 in Kimball Co 5 Jun 2005 may have been migrants.

  • High counts:  31 in Kimball Co 5 Jun 2005, 20 on 23 May 2000 in Dixon Co, and 14 at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 29 Jun 2001.

Summer: BBS data indicate that the greatest numbers occur in grasslands of the north and north-central, and fewest occur in the east. The latter may be an artifact resulting from the tendency for BBS routes to undercount urban habitats, the preferred habitat for this species in the east, or the tendency for grassland birds to fly and sit on fence-posts during daylight hours.

  • Breeding Phenology:
    Eggs: 2 Jun- 18 Jul. A nest with eggs was near Keystone, Keith Co early Aug 1981 (Rosche 1994).
  •  High counts:  70 in Box Butte Co 7 Jun 2008.

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Oct 20, 22, 24 (Johnsgard 1980)

Large aggregations are often seen in fall, beginning in mid-Aug, although a “nice flock” was over Lincoln 30 Jul.  Departure is generally in late Aug and Sep, and Oct records are few; some late dates may be of Common Poorwill. There is no clear difference in departure dates between the east and west.

  • High counts:  1422 over Omaha 11 Sep 2013, 1000 over Bellevue, Sarpy Co 30 Aug 2016, 600 over Omaha 25 Sep 2006, 600 “possibly several thousand” over Bellevue 30 Aug 2016, “several hundred” at Scottsbluff, Scotts Bluff Co 23 Aug 1994, and 292 in 32 minutes over western Douglas Co 16 Sep 2012.


BBS: Breeding Bird Survey
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1957. The AOU Check-list of North American birds, 5th ed. Port City Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Brigham, R.M., J. Ng, R.G. Poulin, and S.D. Grindal. 2011. Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Gates, D. 1966. Comparative arrival dates of selected migratory birds in selected counties in Nebraska. NBR 34: 66-69.

Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.

Haecker, F.W., R.A. Moser, and J.B. Swenk. 1945. Checklist of the birds of Nebraska. NBR 13: 1-40.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1980. A preliminary list of the birds of Nebraska and adjacent Great Plains states. Published by the author, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA.

Mays, S.E., G.N. Newberry, L. Riley, H,B. Britten, and D.L. Swanson. 2019. Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles Minor) in Agricultural Landscapes: Genetic Structure of Populations Restricted to Urban Rooftop Nesting, The American Midland Naturalist 181: 29-40.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2018.  Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online