Wildlife and Nature Photography

An Incredible Day Releasing A Common Nighthawk With Swift Care Ontario

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Common Nighthawks are seldom observed during the day. They are most active at dusk and dawn, when they can be seen circling the skies feeding on insects.

Swift Care Ontario, located in Komoka, is a wildlife rehabilitation center that specializes in Species At Risk with Chimney Swifts, Bank Swallows, Barn Swallows, Common Nighthawks, and Eastern Whip-poor-wills being their main focus. Licensed by both the the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Canadian Wildlife Service, they are a nonprofit organization that rescue and rehabilitate these beautiful birds in an effort to preserve their declining numbers.

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Debbie from Swift Care Ontario displays the wing pattern of a Common Nighthawk.

Common Nighthawks feed almost exclusively on insects and are beginning their 5000km migration to South America, where they will spend the winter. These birds roost during the day on tree branches, fence posts or on the ground. Their incredible camouflage and motionless behaviour make daytime sightings nearly impossible. Your best chance to observe a Common Nighthawk is at dusk or dawn when they are most active, circling the skies feeding on flying insects.

I was recently contacted by Swift Care Ontario asking if I knew of any local areas that still had Common Nighthawks present. A young, fully grown Common Nighthawk they had raised this year was ready for release and they were looking for an optimal release site where other Common Nighthawks were present. I was happy to provide Swift Care Ontario with a location where I was still observing Common Nighthawks actively feeding at dusk as a potential release site.

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What an experience seeing a Common Nighthawk this close and witnessing its release. I am truly grateful Swift Care Ontario invited me to come along.

Words cannot even begin to describe my excitement when I was once again contacted by Swift Care Ontario and asked if I would accompany them on the release to show them the exact location. Having never seen one of these birds close up and to witness one of these incredible Species At Risk being released into the wild, I knew this was going to be an amazing experience. When I spoke with Debbie from Swift Care Ontario on the phone, she asked if I could meet her on Friday August 29 at 11am for the release. She would need to feed the Common Nighthawk every hour, beginning at 6am the morning of the release, in order for it to be properly nourished. She felt that a late morning release would provide enough feedings. I graciously accepted and still couldn’t believe that I had been invited to the release. I have to admit, I felt a little bit like a child again on Christmas Eve that Thursday evening, as my excitement kept me awake most of the night.

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The young female raised and released by Swift Care Ontario seemed quite content in her new surroundings.

The Common Nighthawk was transported to the selected release site in a special container which provided ventilation and the soft mesh material prevented any wing or feather damage in transit. A soft blanket was placed over the container to keep the bird calm. Debbie scouted the site and I answered her questions about the area. Her knowledge of birds is incredible and I could really sense her passion and genuine love for what she does. I pointed to the specific area I thought would make an ideal release location. As we walked closer, Debbie described the preferred habitat of the Common Nighthawk. Hearing this, I was feeling more and more confident of the location. Debbie wanted to place the bird on a fallen log with the intent of it sitting there for several hours while it got its bearings. She was confident that the young bird would hear the other Common Nighthawks calling at dusk as they emerged to feed, and join the group. I mentioned to her that there were some logs under a Willow tree just on the edge of the wooded area that was surrounded by mixed meadow, consisting of tall grasses, Goldenrod, and Milkweed. I was delighted to hear Debbie describe the location as “perfect”.

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As we walked away the incredible camouflage became more apparent. Even though I knew where the bird was, she was still hard to distinguish from the forest floor.

Debbie opened the container and gently picked up the Common Nighthawk. I  photographed this beautiful bird as it watched intently from her hands. The colour pattern and camouflage was simply amazing. It is no wonder these birds are seldom seen when roosting. The bird was then placed on one of the fallen logs where it sat quite content while looking around. I must say, I was expecting the bird to immediately fly up into the trees to roost, but it was comfortable down on the log surveying the area and Debbie informed me this was normal behaviour when releasing this species. After several minutes, the bird fluttered, briefly hovered, then set down on the forest floor next to the fallen logs amongst the various ground cover. It was here that the incredible camouflage was once again displayed. This is when we walked away, leaving the bird to begin it’s journey in the wild.

As I mentioned, Swift Care Ontario is a nonprofit organization. Carolyn and Debbie are the two primary caregivers and neither one takes home a paycheque. They simply do it for their love of birds. Many of the birds they rehabilitate require feeding every hour, 14-16 hours a day. The time, effort and dedication these women put into ensuring the future of these Species At Risk is phenomenal. Wildlife rehabilitation centers in Ontario do not receive funding from the government and operate solely on private donations. These birds require a special diet, and many of the injured and abandoned birds received are malnourished, so vitamin supplements and probiotics are given. With veterinary costs, travel, proper enclosures, and supplies, the operating costs incurred by Swift Care Ontario are quite large. If you love birds as much as I do and wish to continue observing these Species At Risk, please consider making a donation. No amount is too small, as it all adds up. To keep up to date with Swift Care Ontario’s latest patients and releases, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or visit their website. Donations can easily be made by clicking here.

Good birding,



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9 Responses to “An Incredible Day Releasing A Common Nighthawk With Swift Care Ontario”

  1. Debbie Lefebre

    Having you and Lisa come to the release was invaluable on several fronts. Firstly, your keen birder’s eye could tell us exactly where a wild population of Common Nighthawks could be found. Being released into such an area is key to the survival of a newly-released youngster. Finding the ideal natural habitat to meet this young bird’s needs was, again, thanks to your extensive knowledge of the area. For us, as rehabilitators, release time is STRESS TIME as we make that leap of faith trusting that an orohaned bird we have raised by hand will succeed in going out to make a living in the wild. Since my wonderful rehab partner, Carolyn, could not be there, it was a gift to have you and Lisa, such avid lovers of birds, there for company and support. We made a great team and SCO is indebted to you! We look forward to having your company on future releases.

    • Paul Roedding

      Thank you Debbie. As avid birders we cannot thank Swift Care Ontario enough for the incredible work you do preserving these wonderful species. The countless hours Carolyn and yourself spend hand feeding and caring for these birds in incredible. Every time we see one of these amazing species on our birding travels we think of the two of you at Swift Care Ontario.

  2. Gillian

    An amazing story, Paul. I’m glad the young nighthawk has a chance of reconnecting with others of its kind thanks to you and the rehabilitators!

    Funny, today a friend and I saw two Common Nighthawks flying during the day in the Ottawa area. It was cloudy this morning and perhaps that’s what prompted them to start flying over one of the shrubby fields at Mud Lake.

    • Paul Roedding

      Thanks Gillian. Glad to hear there are still some up you way. I have seen some around here earlier in the evening and later in the mornings on overcast days. They sure are a wonderful bird.

    • Gillian

      Yes, I quite like them. I had a pair in my neighbourhood in early June – I heard them peenting around dusk for about 10 days before they disappeared. Then I had a great experience where I saw one performing its courtship around 8:30 am on a sunny morning, complete with an aerial dive and sonic boom. Unfortunately, they are leaving now so I probably won’t see any more until next spring.

  3. Gail

    Congratulations Guys! This is a fabulous story of successful Rehabbing.

  4. Debbie Lefebre

    Yesterday (September 4), we released two more Common Nighthawks in that same location. We were sorry you and Lisa were out of town but you can see some images of the two beauties on our FB page. These were the two birds that were driven from Quebec last Saturday. One needed rehabilitation to recover from an injury and the younger one just needed a little more time to “ripen” before release. While in care, they shared an enclosure and would usually choose to share a log, sitting beside each other. Things worked out well that the injured bird was fully recovered by the time the younger one had shown she was release ready. That meant the ideal condition of being able to release them together. Two of the Chimney Swifts from Quebec were released this past Tuesday so now we just have the three little Swifts from Nova Scotia to “graduate”. It has certainly been a busy, exciting season for Swift Care!

    • Paul Roedding

      Great news! I’m sorry we missed it, but the main thing is those birds were successfully rehabilitated by Swift Care Ontario. Thank you for sharing.

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