Notice for readers: On March 31, Neotropical Birds will be integrated into the new Birds of the World, a powerful research database offering species accounts for every species on earth. Learn more at While Birds of the World is a subscription service, we remain committed to offering this content to Neotropical Birds contributors and to those unable to pay for it through our scholarship program. Stay tuned.

Sand-colored Nighthawk Chordeiles rupestris

  • Order: Caprimulgiformes
  • Family: Caprimulgidae
  • Polytypic: 2 subspecies
  • Authors: Nichole Whyland


Breeding is reported January in Meta, southeastern Colombia (Olivares 1962), although along the Amazon in extreme southeastern Colombia breeding is suspected to occur from late July to mid September (Hilty and Brown 1986). A nest was found in Ecuador in August (Cisneros-Heredia 2006). Breeding in southeastern Peru is from May through August (O'Neill 1974, Groom 1992), and from June to September in central Brazil (Sick 1950). Breeding occurs at times of low water.

Sand-colored Nighthawks do not make a nest, instead laying the eggs in a scrape on a sand bar (Sick 1950, O'Neill 1974, Groom 1992. Sand-colored Nighthawks typically breed in loose colonies, which often are associated with colonies of Yellow-billed Tern (Sternula superciliaris), Large-billed Tern (Phaetusa simplex), and Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) (Groom 1992, Sick 1993). The clutch is two eggs; the eggs are "sandy buff with a bluish tint and splotched and scrawled with pale raw umber" (O'Neill 1974). The incubation period is about 21 days (Groom 1992). and parents will lay a replacement clutch if lost by predation or flooding.

When approached by a human, an adult attempts to defend the nest by puffing out the feathers, opening the mouth, and giving grunting sounds; if this tactic is unsuccessful, then the adult gives a broken wing display, flopping across the ground (Sick 1950, O'Neill 1974). In general, however, Sand-colored Nighthawks make little effort to defend their nests. At one site in southeastern Peru, breeding success of Sand-colored Nighthawk colonies was highest in colonies that were associated with breeding colonies of terns and skimmers, which aggressively defend their own nests (and thus, indirectly, defend the nests of the nighthawks) other species (Groom 1992). Indeed, on several occasions when terns and skimmers abandoned a nesting beach, the remaining nighthawk colony invariably was lost to predators within two days (Groom 1992).

Recommended Citation

Whyland, N. (2015). Sand-colored Nighthawk (Chordeiles rupestris), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.