Your Fall Migration Moment

Do you have a moment or signal each year when you know fall migration has begun? Yesterday evening, I had mine: the Nighthawks were out.

Common Nighthawks are a mainly nocturnal bird that, for most of the summer, we can only locate by call. However, for a very brief window in late August, the Nighthawks come out into the daylight to migrate south…and, most years, they come out in numbers.

In less than an hour, I counted well over 100 Nighthawks heading south over Highway 11 between the communities of Pinewood and Barwick. The birds almost always appear in a loose, swirling ball, hawking insects as they go. Sometimes, the Nighthawks are only visible for a few seconds before they vanish south.

I very rarely get to log an observation in iNat for the Nighthawks. They’re not difficult to identify: they have long, tapered wings marked with a broad silver stripe. Even from a great distance, the silver stripe is easily seen. The challenge is, the birds are moving so quickly - and in late day sun - that they’re nearly un-photograph-able. Usually, I get something that looks like this:

So, the Nighthawks are mostly an experience, not a record.

This year’s Nighthawk moment was accompanied by choking clouds of forest fire smoke: the birds were obviously taking advantage of a stiff northwest wind to start their migration. Unfortunately, that brought back to Rainy River the smoke from the fires that are still burning along the Manitoba border.

The moment also featured a sudden flight of large Darner-type (Aeshna species) dragonflies. I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the Forum that odonata numbers have been very low here this year…so I was really surprised to see hundreds of Darners appear literally out of the blue with the Nighthawks. Presumably, the Nighthawks were taking advantage of the sudden bounty to fuel their flight.

Feel free to share your fall migration moment!


When the small birds begin to move through the bush along the Red River. I saw a grey Catbird yesterday, and a whole bunch of little jobs that never sat still. So I think it’s now underway. My signal that the northern migration is starting is the presence of Junco’s. They also signal the end of fall migration. It seems as if they are the first to arrive, and the last to leave.
I share your pain about taking photos of fast birds - there are three species of swallow that I see every summer, and most of my attempts at photographing them resemble your Nighthawks!


@ursus_arctos That’s an interesting story about the darners and nighthawks.

Even if hard to document, such is still an observation as well as an experience. After all, a photo is not required for an iNat observation. The audio calls or a sketch could be used in place of a photo.

@mamestraconfigurata I did not know juncos migrate! They are a year round species in my area (south of San Francisco Bay). Migration is sort of a subtle thing here, but I am already seeing some American Robins. It seems early for that, but I’m not that good at this sort of thing.


Yes, they don’t stick around all winter up here! I don’t know how far south they go - perhaps just to a place where they have a food source. It’s kind of neat how each area seems to have its own ‘normal’.

When sparrows return to New Mexico. Yes, we have breeding populations of Black-throated and towhees and Chipping and juncos in the mountains, but the number of Chipping/Brewer’s/Clay-colored/Lincoln’s/White-crowned that start moving through and making noise are a true sign of fall. Interestingly, out of state juncos don’t return until end of fall (October-November). Those can be told apart by subspecies: Red-backed are the only breeding group while Oregon, Pink-sided, and Gray-headed are the main winter residents.


This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.