What do you call a flock of Nighthawks?

After the mad dash to the finish line, it now feels as though birds are busy establishing territories, singing loud and clear throughout the mornings, chasing each other over border disputes, planting metaphorical roots on a tiny piece of land for their breeding season. Nonetheless, migration is still occurring for some species, the so-called “late migrants”, which are still actively migrating in-late May and early-June. They are actually not late, but right on time, being late only by comparison to the earlier species, many of which have long since reached their destination, when Spring slowly changes into Summer. After their first observations on May 23 for both, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Tennessee Warbler, late-migrants, were seen again on May 25 but not again over the past week. Another late-migrant species, Wilson’s Warbler, was also detected for the first time on May 25, through banding, and again, visually, on May 26. 

Other new arrivals include Black-billed Cuckoo, which repetitive song first was heard on May 27; on that same day, the cheery-cheery-up of a Mourning Warbler was also heard for the first time. It seems that this bird took a liking to Cabot Head: the male has been singing constantly most mornings since arriving, with a unique display of showmanship on May 31 when it perched in full view on the hydro wire! Mourning Warblers are denizens of dense shrubs, very rarely seen. I have never, ever seen one fully in the open like that one!

As mentioned in a very early post, Cedar Waxwings arrive late at Cabot Head: indeed, the first ones were observed on May 25 this year, with small flocks seen almost daily afterwards. 

Late-May is also the time when American Redstarts start to take their place at Cabot Head, with their variable, high-pitched songs. At this time, they’re also likely to be caught in the nets, notably on May 26 when 13 were banded, the highest total so far this Spring. 

A few unusual species were seen over the last week: one Northern Mockingbird was briefly observed on May 28. It is almost an annual Spring occurrence, having been seen in 11 of the past 17 Spring seasons. On that same day, a pair of Northern Shovelers flew over the basin, which made me smile: I do like their ridiculous-looking bill, their fat body, and the yellow eye giving them a truly unusual appearance. On May 29, a faint call brought my attention to a fast-flying Semipalmated Plover. And, on May 31, a Brewer’s Blackbird was perched on top of a cedar, singing its harsh song, with fiery yellow eyes and glossy plumage. It is a rare bird at Cabot Head, previously detected in only four Spring seasons.

So, circling back to the title of this post, what is the name for a flock of Common Nighthawk? A quick internet search did not yield any specific term. A better question might be: do we need these quaint, antiquated, rarely-used terms for groups of individual species? Who says: “I have just seen a parliament of owls”, “this murder of crows is on the move”, except at trivia nights. (https://www.audubon.org/news/no-its-not-actually-murder-crows)

That said, the first observation of Common Nighthawk this spring was on May 24, with only one bird: there was no need for a fancy name then. However, over the following several evenings, numbers steadily grew, to the point where a whole parliament could have been filled (pre-COVID, that is). On the evening of May 25, 24 birds were detected, with a few only through their calls; on May 26, 35 birds were counted; the following evening, May 27, I went outside in the evening with the intention of photographing the first Lady’s Slipper blooming at Cabot Head. Once again, the nighthawk call, er, called me to attention. Quickly, I realized that there were more than just a few of them flying around. Scanning the horizon with my binoculars, I realized it was in fact a lot: as best as I could, I started counting them and tallied an astonishing 221 birds! It felt like the whole horizon was filled with their dancing flight. On May 28, a more “reasonable” 12 birds were counted. The following few days brought bad weather (or good, as rain was needed around here), so none were detected.

Maybe a large flock of nighthawk should be called an astonishment of Nighthawks, because that’s how I felt to witness so many at once! 

Most importantly, keep your eyes up in the evening and your ears sharp for their calls! And maybe don’t bother with fancy names for groups of animals.

Stéphane

Please encourage Ted’s Birdathon: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/bird-studies-canada/p2p/birdathon20/team/bpbo-corvid-2020/

2 Comments on “What do you call a flock of Nighthawks?

  1. What a great story Stephane. I think that Cabot Head is proving to be a good place for observing the threatened species. A really great description of your “discovery” of the Astonishment of Nighthawks.

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