Invasion of the Nighthawks

Take a few moments and watch the Nighthawks soar over the trees from Devil’s Lake State Park’s south bluff and head south toward the Sauk Praire Recreation Area.

The video can’t do justice to the number of Nighthawks we saw last evening at dusk. Hundreds. Being considered of “high conservation interest” in Wisconsin, we were surprised by the endless stream of Nighthawks fly over the treetops in all directions while we were out along the border of Devil’s Lake State Park & “Badger”.

Common Nighthawks are amazing fliers that swoop and race at amazing speeds to hunt insects in at dusk and after dark. If you’re not a birding type, It’s easy to confuse them with bats or other evening fliers. However, with a bit of observation, the white racing stripe under each pointed wing tends to give them away as they race overhead! The males, especially during courtship, can dive so fast that their wings create a loud “booming” or “whooshing” sound just as they pull out of their dives. You may feel as if you’d just been buzzed by a fighter jet!

Nighthawks tend to forage over open water and grasslands which make’s the Sauk Prairie Recreation area a perfect place to dine. We’ve seen them many times out over the prairie, but we’ve never caught them in such large numbers and it may be that this is the beginning of their fall migration. (Nighthawk migration is generally at its peak in late August. ) As I said, the video doesn’t do it justice, sometimes you just have to be there!

**Update: We’ve had reports of hundreds to thousands of Nighthawks seen last evening from Cascade Mountain west to Baraboo which pretty much confirms that the birds are migrating south.

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  1. Joe salemi

    I don’t think I have ever seen hundreds of night Hawks. Is this a migratory number or are they permanent residents? Are they scared away from feeding areas by noise on the ground?

    1. Author

      From what I’m learning, chatting with others on social media, it’s migration season. They were seeing large numbers all over central wisconsin. Interestingly they can only hunt from the sky, they practically can’t feed themselves on the ground! That said, Sauk Prairie Rec Area is a perfect summer location for them where they hunt bugs over the grassland. We often see quite a few in residence. The bigger issue for their safety is that they don’t build nests, so they can be pretty vulnerable to disturbances.

      1. Joe salemi

        So I am hoping that motorcycle, shooting and rocket events would be planned with some sensitivity to migratory patterns…..

  2. Bill Pielsticker

    We are on the south side of Crystal Lake in Dane county. We saw hundreds of nighthawks soaring around our deck and the slope down to the lake. They appeared to be moving ahead of the storm front and disappeared as quickly as they arrived.

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