The Common Nighthawk has cryptic colouration (camouflage) of brown and white that makes this bird difficult to see when not in flight. Field marks of the Common Nighthawk include:
- Large hard and large black eyes
- Very small bill
- Long, pointed wings
- Distinctive white bands on the undersides and top of wings (“wrist bands”)
- Notched tail
- Barring on underside feathers
- White tail band and throat (male); buffy throat (female)
Males and females can be differentiated only by the white tail band and throat patch. These birds are most easily seen and identified during flight by the white “wrist bands” on their wings.
Males make a distinctive “booming” or whooshing sound with their wings as part of courtship displays, caused by pulling suddenly out of a deep dive. Listen for this booming sound at 0:18 in the video below.
The call of the Common Nighthawks is a loud “peent”, similar to the American Woodcock, but not as nasal. Both males and females give this call. Several birds are calling in the sonagraphic video below.