common nighthawk

Fall Migration Notes

Fall Migration is underway and while your birdfeeders will slow down as we approach October birdwatching will only get more interesting.  Have your binoculars with you and ready because warblers are pouring through middle Tennessee stopping to feed in the early mornings on insects and berries.  Mornings are the best time to see lots of different species of warblers.  And mornings after a storm tend to be even better.  Make time to visit one of the many great local birdwatching areas this fall to see some of them.  For information about great places to birdwatch click on the links below…

  • Tennessee Birding Trails is a great website for locating trails for specific types of birding.

  • Tennessee Birding Facebook group has an active community of birders who post often.

  • Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) Nashville Chapter is having their Radnor Lake Wed morning bird walks September 19th and continue each Wednesday through October 10th. Please meet in the west Parking lot outside the Visitor’s Center at 7:30am. Come rain or shine. With the exception of ongoing downpours or thunderstorms.

  • TN-BIRD email list is a free list that allows you to get updates of bird sighting from other birders in the area. to receive emails simply click on “find and join” at the top right of the tn-bird page, search for list name tn-bird, and follow the instructions on signing up your email.


One of the more interesting, easy, and fun things to see in the fall is the migration of Chimney Swifts and Common Nighthawks. In the evenings, particularly in areas where there is outdoor lighting, like high school football games and shopping malls, Common Nighthawks gather and feed on insects. Downtown areas tend to be very productive areas to see both.

The Common Nighthawk, a member of the Goatsuckers family, measures around 9 1/2 “in length. They are gray-brown with slim, long wings that have a distinctive white bar near the tips. They are most active at night but can be seen midday as well. They fly with long easy strokes but can quickly change direction and appear erratic as they catch flying insects. Male Nighthawks have a white throat and white band across a notched tail. Listen for the unusual “peent” call of the Nighthawk.

The Chimney Swift is a short swallowlike bird with long, slightly curved wings. Peterson’s field guide to Eastern Birds describes it as a “cigar with wings”. Always in motion, Swifts appear to continually fly never landing to rest and constantly “twitter”. They measure about 5 ½” in length and are uniformly grayish to brown. During migration Swifts have been known to roost together by the thousands in a single chimney. On more than a few occasions I have witnessed a “funnel” of swifts descending into the chimney of a downtown building while on my way to a Predators game. It is a fascinating sight.


And About Hummingbirds

We may see Ruby-throated hummingbirds well into October so keep your feeders out with fresh nectar as there may be several waves of hummingbirds still coming through TN on their return to Central and South America. The belief that feeders should be taken down to cause the birds to migrate is incorrect.  They will leave when they are ready whether there is a feeder present or not.  

Bird Bio: Chimney Swifts & Common Nighthawks

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift

This time of year some of the more interesting bird movements to look for are those of the Chimney Swift andCommon Nighthhawk.  In the evenings, about an hour before sundown, look to the sky for small, dark birds gathering in flight.  Their numbers will grow and as they amass they will begin to form a funnel, circling round and round as they eventually begin to descend.  They are in the act of settling into a roosting sight for the night.  I have seen this occur many times in downtown Nashville. Chimney Swifts are a ”cigar-shaped” bird with a short stubby tail, and measure about 5 ¼” in length. They are sooty gray to dark gray with long wings that come to a point.  Chimney Swifts nest in chimneys, barns, old buildings, and hollow trees and are a common summer resident.  You may have noticed them in constant flight over your home with their distinguishable twittering sound. It would be rare to see one below building height.

We are always amazed with the migration of hummingbirds, but these birds will summer as far north as southern Canada, and return to their winter grounds in the Andes Mountains of Peru. That’s an amazing journey indeed.


Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

The Common Nighthawk is another interesting bird to be on the lookout for while you are enjoying fall evenings in a well-lit park or perhaps attending a high school or college sporting event.  Pay attention to the large lights around the sports fields.  Common Nighthawks make great use of these lights as they swoop and dive for the insects that gather.  The Common Nighthawk is a member of the Goatsucker family, a small family of birds known for their wide mouths and night-time activities.

Common Nighthawks are about 10 inches in length with long pointed wings, and a slightly forked tail.  While in flight the prominent white wing bars are easily seen.  Its colors range from dark brown to gray with underparts whitish and barred.  Males have a white throat.  Listen for its characteristic “peent” call.  During fall migration large flocks of up to several thousand have been seen.