For the Birds Radio Program: Nighthawk migration

Original Air Date: Sept. 3, 1996 (estimated date)

Laura is taking care of a nighthawk infected with hookworms, and hoping it will be ready for release while it can join other migrating nighthawks.

Audio missing


Not entirely certain of year or date

Although September is barely here, most nighthawks have already left the northland on their long journey for Brazil. We had a spectacular migration along Lake Superior the evening of August 23rd, and a fairly good on e on the 26th, and we can expect one or two more evenings where the sky seems alive with their delicate wings darting erratically after dragonflies and moths, but as far as nighthawks are concerned, autumn is well underway and they want no part of it.

As a rehabilitator, I receive injured nighthawks every year during migration. Autumn is the season with the greatest number of birds, for adult numbers are augmented with the young of the year, but autumn is also the season when the most birds die. Hawks time their migration to coincide with the migration of littler birds to supply them with food as they move along. Picture windows, television and radio antenna towers, tall buildings, automobiles, and even airplanes are dangerous to immature birds that have never encountered manmade hazards before. Traveling along the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season isn’t exactly safe either. Nighthawks appear large, but they weigh in at only two or three ounces, and are as fragile and meek as any creatures on earth.

I received one adult male and three immature nighthawks this fall. One had a very minor bruise and was quickly released. But two had compound wing fractures and bad internal injuries—they died within a couple of days. The last one, which I still have, has a broken wing, lost a lot of blood, and was bleeding internally. It’s unique—the first nighthawk I’ve ever had that was infected with hookworms. Most internal parasites that attack nighthawks have an insect host for part of their life cycle. When the nighthawk eats the bug, the parasitic hitchhikers get inside to do their thing. To survive and reproduce, nighthawk parasites eventually have to find another insect or get their eggs into one, so captive birds sooner or later get cleaned out on their own. One nighthawk I received last year had tapeworms. Snarfy’s population disappeared on its own within three or four months. Hookworms are bigger, uglier, and nastier, but killing them without hurting the poor nighthawk will be a tricky process. Nighthawks have better vision than we do, but they haven’t yet mastered looking through a microscope to figure out what kinds of parasites they harbor, and they don’t have the foggiest notion what to do about them anyway, so infected wild birds are stuck. But I hope we can clean out this little nighthawk’s intestines before she’s released to face once again the dangerous but lovely and enticing natural world.