Field Reports from the 2013 Nighthawk Season

At a Glance: Nighthawk Season 2013

We identified five individual nighthawks in Keene in 2013, but confirmation of nesting eluded us. For what’s it’s worth, the 2013 nighthawk season was a strange one statewide: there’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear… 

August 12, 2013
Common Nighthawk. (photo © Brian Garrett)

This gent wants to know why 2013 was such a dismal year for nighthawks in New Hampshire. (photo © Brian Garrett)

End of Season Summary

Keene

We identified five individual birds (4 males + 1 female) but, try as we might, we could not confirm nesting success.

Elsewhere

No successful nighthawk nests were confirmed anywhere in the Granite State in 2013, and bird numbers were low statewide. It was the fifth wettest June on record — and unusually cold as well. It’s possible that the chilly, rainy weather may have delayed breeding and led to nest failures.

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August 2, 2013

A Probable Nest

A nighthawk keeps watch over her two young chicks. (photo © Adam C. Smith Photography)

Nighthawk nest in Keene in 2013? Probable, but not confirmed. (photo © Adam C. Smith Photography)

In a last-ditch attempt to confirm the presence of a nighthawk nest on the roof of the People’s United Bank, we convened for one last, small-scale coordinated survey — focused solely on the People’s Bank nighthawks — on the evening of August 2.

We had one observer positioned at each corner of the building, with strict orders not to get distracted by the showy sights and sounds of the male nighthawks. (No easy feat!) We were looking instead for the stealthy, silent female, leaving or landing on the roof: a sure sign that a chick is being fed.

Ultimately, we saw a male nighthawk fly off the bank roof and a possible female “appear out of nowhere” in low, silent flight right in front of the bank, but we did not definitively observe a female leaving the roof. The only reasons nighthawks spend time on rooftops are to incubate eggs or feed chicks, so it seems likely that there is a late nesting attempt happening on the bank roof.  Unfortunately, however, this will have to be recorded as a “probable” (and not “confirmed”) nest.

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July 30, 2013

A Nest on the Roof of the People’s United Bank?

A Common Nighthawk impersonates gravel in eastern Washington State. (photo © Laurel Parshall)

A Common Nighthawk impersonates gravel in eastern Washington State. (photo © Laurel Parshall)

During our fourth coordinated survey of the season, we took another close look at Keene State College and the parking lot of the People’s United Bank on the corners of West Street, School Street, and Gilbo Avenue.

The skies above Gilbo Avenue proved once again to be the hotspot of late-season nighthawk activity: we observed several three-bird chases and a great deal of booming, and we were able to positively identify a female nighthawk in the vicinity of the bank. We also observed a male nighthawk landing on the bank roof. The timing and nature of this nighthawk activity are right for a late nesting attempt, but it’s very difficult to confirm rooftop nesting without access to the roof…

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July 22, 2013

A Four-Bird Chase!

Our third coordinated survey was again small, but significant. We surveyed two sites (Keene State College and Gilbo Avenue), and for the first time this season, identified five individual nighthawks in Keene. Chases took place at both sites, with a thrilling, extended four-bird chase high above the People’s United Bank and a two-bird chase around a volunteer’s car at Keene State! Here’s the take on this activity from New Hampshire Audubon’s resident nighthawk biologist, Becky Suomala:

We’ve got signs in Concord that territories are breaking down and birds are moving around a lot. [However,] none of our sites has the kind of consistent activity [that is being seen at Keene State College and Gilbo Avenue] so I wonder if you have a couple of late nesting attempts?

I’d be surprised if the chase represented a fledgling. At this point I still wouldn’t be expecting fledglings to be flying really well — or at least not well enough to take part in a chase like that. The few times we’ve watched older fledglings, they were still being fed on the ground by their parents and weren’t chasing them, even though they could fly pretty well. But we don’t have a lot of experience with fledged young. Once they can fly well they usually leave the nest area and there’s almost nothing in the literature.

Given the wacky year we’ve had, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have interlopers that were unsuccessful at nesting coming in from other areas to try to impress the local female. The 4-bird chases I’ve observed were 3 males and 1 female, when the female was feeding a pretty good-sized chick.

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July 9, 2013

Four Birds

Our second coordinated survey was small, but noteworthy. We surveyed three sites and again identified at least four individual birds (3 males, and 1 probable female), with hubs of activity at Keene State College and in the skies over Gilbo Ave.  This time, however, the tables were turned: multiple chases and a probable female were observed above the People’s United Bank at Gilbo Ave., with two males (but no female) booming and diving onsite at Keene State.

A Common Nighthawk waits out the rain on a fencepost roost in Florida. (photo © Richard Crook)

A Common Nighthawk waits out the rain on a fencepost roost in Florida. (photo © Richard Crook)

What’s it all mean?

This activity could indicate that the female is attempting to nest (or re-nest) on the gravel roof of the People’s United Bank after a failed nesting attempt at Keene State College. Brett did her darndest to persuade the bank manager to let her on the roof this morning to check for a nest, but the manager remained unconvinced. (Her hesitation is certainly understandable, as banks have security and liability concerns very different from those of a college!)

Now what?

It may be possible to confirm nesting by observing the birds’ behavior, but it’ll take regular watches to establish a behavior pattern. Nighthawk behavior can change dramatically from one night to the next if they aren’t nesting, but if they’re caring for eggs or young, it’ll be consistent. Hence the need for multiple nights of observations!

You can help.

Please consider conducting your own monitoring in the parking lot of the People’s United Bank — just download a data form and sit yourself down with a friend in a place with a good view of the sky from 8 to 9:15 p.m. on any clear, calm night. A few notes: It’s important to stay the entire time from 8 to 9:15 p.m. (Noting a few peents over the course of a minute or two won’t help us to confirm nesting behavior.) Watch for a silent bird (female) leaving the roof between 8:15 and 8:35 and returning between 9:00 and 9:15.  If the birds are feeding young, the female could return sooner (often with males chasing) and she might make several visits. If you do watch for nighthawks on your own, please fill out a data form whether or not you see birds, and remember to email your completed form to Brett Amy Thelen.

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June 20, 2013

An Exciting Start to the Season

A Common Nighthawk in flight. (photo © Steven Mlodinow)

Note the white wingbars: a distinguishing feature of Common Nighthawks. (photo © Steven Mlodinow)

Our first Nighthawk Patrol of the season in Keene was an exciting one: we identified at least four individual birds, with hubs of activity at Keene State College and in the skies over Gilbo Ave. Male nighthawks also made forays up to Central Square and over to the Hannaford Plaza on West Street. The Keene Cinema parking lot — a hotbed of nighthawk activity several years ago — remained quiet.

Keene State College

Observers at Keene State were treated to two separate chases involving three nighthawks each (including a probable female), and we also spotted nighthawks landing on and flying extremely low over the roof that hosted last year’s nest.

A Nest?

With all of that excitement, we thought for sure we’d find a nesting nighthawk when we checked that roof for birds in the light of day, but alas: no nest….yet. Nesting activity seems to be lower (or at least later) than normal this year in Concord and the Ossipee Pine Barrens, as well. The birds may be getting off to a late start, but the warm weather predicted for the coming week could well kick them into high gear!

You can help.

We’ll have another coordinated monitoring night in early July, likely the week of July 8. In the meantime, please consider conducting your own monitoring — just download a data form and sit yourself down with a friend in a place with a good view of the sky from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on any clear, calm night. If you’re looking for nighthawking excitement, start in the courtyard behind the library at Keene State College. Gilbo Avenue — near People’s Bank (which has a gravel roof!) — is another good place to look and listen for nighthawks.

If you do watch for nighthawks on your own, please fill out a data form whether or not you see birds, and remember to email your completed form to Brett Amy Thelen.

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Contact Us

For more information or to volunteer, please contact Brett Amy Thelen at (603) 358-2065 or by email.