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COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Common Nighthawk in Canada


Global Range

The breeding range of the Common Nighthawk includes most of North America, and disconnectedly, Central America (Figure 1). In Canada, the species is distributed in all provinces and territories except Nunavut. In the United States, it breeds in all continental states. However, it is absent from eastern California, southern Nevada and southwestern Arizona (Poulin et al. 1996).

Although the Common Nighthawk winters throughout the whole of South America, it is most abundant in eastern Peru, eastern Ecuador and southern Brazil (Poulin et al. 1996). In most South American countries, its distribution is still poorly known, because of the difficulty in distinguishing this species from the Lesser Nighthawk (C. acutipennis), the difficulty in differentiating migrants from resident birds, and the general lack of information on the species (Poulin et al. 1996).

Canadian Range

In Canada, the Common Nighthawk breeds in all provinces and territories except Nunavut (Figure 1). Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data indicate that about 37% of the breeding range of this species is in Canada, although only 10% of the total world population is believed to breed in Canada (P. Blancher, unpubl. data).

In eastern Canada, the species breeds only in the southern part of Labrador and is considered a rare visitor to the island of Newfoundland (Todd, 1963; Godfrey, 1986). The species is generally common and widely distributed in all of the Maritime provinces, with the exception of Prince Edward Island (Erskine, 1992; NatureServe, 2005; S. Blaney, pers. comm. 2005).

In Quebec, the range of the species includes regions south of the 54th parallel, including the south coast of James Bay, Fermont, Lake Mistassini and Waskaganish (Todd, 1963; Godfrey, 1986; Gauthier and Aubry, 1996; J. Gauthier, pers. comm. 2005). There is no confirmation of this species breeding on the Magdalen Islands and Anticosti Island (Cyr and Larivée, 1995; Gauthier and Aubry, 1996). In Ontario, the species occurs throughout the province except for the coastal regions of James Bay and Hudson Bay (Cadman et al. 1987).

Figure 1: Breeding (red), Wintering (blue) and Migratory (yellow) Locations of the Common Nighthawk

Figure 1: Map showing the breeding, wintering and migratory locations of the Common Nighthawk.

From Ridgely et al. 2003).

In western Canada, the species breeds throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan and south of the tree line in Manitoba (Semenchuk, 1992; Smith, 1996; Manitoba Avian Research Committee, 2003). In British Columbia, it occurs throughout the province, including Vancouver Island, but is absent from the Coast Mountains and from the Queen Charlotte Islands (Campbell et al. 1990; Poulin et al. 1996). In the Yukon, the species breeds in the southern part of the territory, up to the Dawson region (Sinclair et al. 2003). In the Northwest Territories, the species occurs along the border with Alberta and Saskatchewan and extends north along the Mackenzie River Valley to Norman Wells (Poulin et al. 1996; R. Popko, pers. comm. 2005). The species is considered an accidental visitor in Nunavut (M. Setterington, pers. comm. 2005).

The Extent of Occurrence (EO) for the species in Canada is estimated at 4 817 780 km2 (Bird Studies Canada, unpubl. data.), while the Area of Occupancy (AO) is approximately 54 000 km2. The latter assumes a population estimate of 200 000 breeding pairs (see below), each with an average territory area of 0.27 km2 (Wedgwood, 1973).