A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Common Nighthawk is present throughout North America except for an area in the southwest corner of the United States that includes parts of southwestern Arizona, the southern tip of Nevada, and much of California. Sonoma County is at the edge of this absent zone. As a result, Common Nighthawk is not at all common in the county (as the graph of reported sightings above shows), but it has been noted here on a few occasions and is even believed to breed in the extreme northwest of the county, although local breeding had not been officially confirmed as of the 1995 Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas. Parmeter and Wight note five county sightings between 2000 and 2010.

Mostly active at night, particularly around dusk, when nighthawks can be seen behaving much like bats, chasing airborne insects. Nighthawks do fly during the day, however. They may also be seen roosting during the day on the ground or on tree branches, like the bird pictured above (not photographed in Sonoma County). In flight, recognizable by distinct white patches on long, pointed wings.

Selected county sightings: Salt Point State Park (Jun 22, 2013, Bill Doyle); Salt Point State Park (Jul 11, 2009, Ruth Rudesill); Ida Clayton Rd. (Aug 25, 2001, Doug Shaw)

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 74

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 266

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 84

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 266

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 292

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, p. 345

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 312

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 215

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 248

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 204

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 105

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 43

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 210

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 222

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 214

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 246

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 409

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 215

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Common Nighthawk



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Common Nighthawk, near Honey Lake, California, July 13, 2011

Common Nighthawk

Chordeiles minor

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

Common Nighthawk, Anahuac NWR, Texas, June 19, 2013