Thursday, June 24, 2010

Flight of the Nighthawk

Peent, peent: It's summer, and the nighthawks fly overhead.

During the day, the common nighthawk blends in on the ground or tree branches where it rests. Come evening, these interesting birds put on one of the best aerial displays around.

For some reason, I think they look a bit like boomerangs as they glide over rivers, ponds, city parks and even downtowns.

As they fly, they gobble up mosquitoes, caddis flies and other insects.

Common nighthawks spend the summer in Idaho before migrating to South America for the winter. They are common and adaptable birds, but even they depend on a wide range of protected habitat on a migration stretching over two continents.

At dusk, they're quite easy to spot overhead, and even easier to hear. Their nasal peent carries well. (Listen).

We've all experienced those sounds or songs that transport us back to another time in our lives. For me, every time I hear the call of the nighthawk, I travel back to Penn State, where I worked for several years as a writer and editor at the performing arts center.

It's a muggy Pennsylvania summer evening: I'm tired after a day of deadlines and copy editing. Something stops me as I walk across the now quiet and deserted campus. There: overhead, nighthawks circle around Old Main, catching moths and other insects drawn to the lights.

Those pressing deadlines and publications and edits will wait, and in the last evening light there are only those birds, and their calls. Peent, peent. -- Matt Miller

Photo by Gavin Keefe Schaefer under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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