Field Reports from the 2018 Nighthawk Season

Hope is the Thing With Feathers

This is the spot for information on the search for nesting nighthawks in Keene. Think of it as a quest: a highly coveted quarry with little chance of success, but there’s joy in the journey…

August 9, 2018

End-of-Season Summary

Keene

A female nighthawk roosting two chicks. (photo © Becky Suomala)

The rooftop nighthawk nest discovered near Central Square in Keene on June 22, 2018. Look closely to the lower right of the adult bird for a glimpse of one of the fuzzy chicks. Sadly, the chicks were lost — presumably to predation — by June 26.
(photo © Becky Suomala)

Keene’s nighthawks were as mysterious as ever in 2018. We confirmed the presence of 4 individual birds in the Elm City this summer (one nesting pair at Central Square and one pair at KSC) and one failed nest at Central Square. However, despite several particularly promising watches, we could not confirm successful nesting at KSC or determine if the Central Square pair re-nested after losing their first set of chicks.

Concord

In an interesting twist, 2018 saw the fewest number of individual birds ever recorded in Concord (just 6 individual adults), but 3 confirmed nests, all of which appeared to produce healthy chicks: one nest at the Steeplegate Mall, another in a gravel pit on the Concord-Pembroke line, and a third on the grounds of the Concord Airport. A very good nesting season!

Elsewhere

In the Ossipee Pine Barrens, graduate student Jason Mazurowski confirmed 4 nighthawk nests (+ 1 probable nest).

Migration will begin soon.

Two nighthawks dart through the air. (photo © parulidae photos)

The best time to see migrating nighthawks is in late August, between 5 and 7 p.m.. You’ll have to look, not listen, as migrating nighthawks tend to forage silently. (photo © parulidae photos)

Nighthawks are among the latest migrants to arrive each spring, and the earliest to depart each “fall,” with southbound migration peaking in late August.

If you’d like to watch with other nighthawk aficionados in Keene, sign up for the Harris Center’s “pop-up” events email list to be notified of a nighthawk migration outing when conditions seem prime for good viewing.

If you’re up for a trip to Concord, you can also join Zeke Cornell’s nighthawk migration count on the top of the Capitol Commons Parking Garage on Storrs Street. Zeke will be up there nightly between August 20 and September 5, from approx. 5:30 to 7:45 p.m.

If you want to look on your own, remember that nighthawk behavior changes during migration: the best time to see migrating birds is between 5 and 7 p.m., and you’ll have to look, not listen − migrating nighthawks tend to forage silently. It’s not uncommon to see an ethereal flock floating down Main Street or above Green Wagon Farm in Keene, so keep your eyes to the skies in late August!

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July 31, 2018

Common Nighthawk: International Bird of Mystery

A Common Nighthawk in flight. (photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

…ever mysterious…
(photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

Intriguing news from KSC: last night, volunteers observed a silent (presumably female) nighthawk slipping off the roof of the KSC Sculpture Studio, accompanied by a series of displays (peent, circle, boom, repeat) by the male. All in all, a sign that there may be a re-nesting attempt in progress. However, when we checked the Sculpture Studio and nearby Elliot Hall roofs — all gravel — this afternoon, we did not see nighthawks on either building. Are they nesting on the ground, or on an as-yet-undiscovered patch of roof? Mysteries abound.

Now what?

If the KSC birds are re-nesting, the chick could fledge any day now. It’d be wonderful to get a few more watches in under our belt, to try to find out if there’s a chick taking flight. If you can conduct a watch in the vicinity of the KSC Sculpture Studio anytime in the next week, please let us know!

Remember:

  1. Strive to watch for the full time from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
  2. Feel free to move around to get the best view.
  3. Be precise in your descriptions, particularly with regard to timing and the location of birds if they land on or fly off a roof.
  4. Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
  5. Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
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July 27, 2018

The Latest from Around the State

It’s been a little quiet on the nighthawk front in Keene this summer, but here’s what we know.

Keene

Birdwatchers invade Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" painting.

A classic case of misidentification, courtesy of Cliff Seifer.

After observing some promising behavior at KSC earlier in the month, we did another roof check on July 5, but could not find any sign of nesting. Alas. We haven’t received any nighthawk reports since early July — not necessarily because the birds aren’t there, but because people have not been able to get out to look for them — so nighthawk status in Keene in currently unknown.

Elsewhere in New Hampshire

There is a nest with a chick in a gravel pit in Pembroke, a nest with two fledged chicks on the roof of the Steeplegate Mall in Concord, and four confirmed nests in the Ossipee Pine Barrens. Hooray!

Now what?

It’d be great to get a few last observations in, to get a sense for whether and where any of the Keene birds re-nested after the nest failures earlier this summer  — though migration is right around the corner, so time is of the essence. If you can get out for a watch anytime in the next week or so, please let us know!

Important Reminders:

  1. Strive to watch for the full time from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
  2. Feel free to move around to get the best view.
  3. Be precise in your descriptions, particularly with regard to timing and the location of the birds.
  4. Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
  5. Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
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June 28, 2018

Nest Failure at Central Square

A hand holding two pieces of bird egg shells. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

All that remains of the Central Square chicks.
(photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Sad news from Central Square: we conducted a nest check on Tuesday, and found no sign of the chicks or adult female. We don’t know the cause — could weekend rains have drowned the chicks? were they eaten by a crow or squirrel? — but rooftop nest failures often happen shortly after the chicks have hatched. Close inspection of the roof turned up fragments of the hatched egg shells, but no other remains. It’s early enough that this pair could try again, but they’ll likely wait a week or so before selecting a new nest site.

More Hopeful News from KSC

Nighthawk watchers were treated to a flurry of activity at Keene State College’s Elliot Hall on Tuesday night — a sign that this pair might be getting ready to lay (or re-lay) eggs. Hope springs eternal…

Now what?

Central Square: It’s possible the birds will make a second nesting attempt at a different location, but we don’t yet know if or where they’ll re-nest. We may try for another coordinated survey in the next week or two, but in the meantime: if you hear booming, see nighthawks diving, or hear peenting night after night in the same spot, please make a note of the precise location and let us know! If you want to do a more focused nighthawk watch, try these locations, all of which have gravel roofs that have attracted the attention of nighthawks in the past: the People’s United Bank on Gilbo Avenue, the Colony Mill building, the intersection of Washington Street and Central Square, and the Hannaford shopping plaza on West Street.

KSC: Roof access at this site is not impossible, but neither is it simple. It would be extremely helpful to have several more watches under our belt to confirm that the birds’ activity is continuing before we try to cajole our way onto the roof to check for a nest. If you can conduct a watch at Elliot Hall anytime in the next week, please let us know!

Important Reminders:

  1. Strive to watch for the full time from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
  2. Feel free to move around to get the best view.
  3. Be precise in your descriptions, particularly with regard to timing and the location of birds as they land on or fly off a roof.
  4. Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
  5. Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
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June 22, 2018

Exciting News!

A female nighthawk roosting two chicks. (photo © Becky Suomala)

The nighthawk nest discovered near Central Square on June 22, 2018. Look closely to the lower right of the adult nighthawk for a glimpse of one of the fuzzy chicks.
(photo © Becky Suomala)

We’ve found a rooftop nighthawk nest near the corner of West Street and Central Square! There is limited roof access at this site, but Harris Center and New Hampshire Audubon staff were able to visit this morning, and we confirmed the presence of a female nighthawk and two fluffy chicks — likely just one or two days old.

Meanwhile, across town…

We also searched for nesting nighthawks on the roof of Elliot Hall at Keene State College — where a male was displaying through last weekend — and were able to get a good look at the KSC Sculpture Studio roof, as well. Sadly, we did not see any nighthawks on either building. It’s possible that Monday’s severe storms led to a nest failure. It’s also possible that the birds are nesting elsewhere, and we haven’t looked in the right place.

We need your help.

(1) In order to determine if there was a nest failure at KSC, we need folks to conduct at least one more watch at Elliot — ideally tonight, before rain and cold temperatures move in for the weekend. If the male is still displaying consistently like he was last week, that tells us that we need to expand our nest search to other gravel areas on the KSC campus. If the male is uncharacteristically silent, we’ll know the nest has failed. If you can watch at KSC tonight or early next week, please let Brett know.

(2) We also need folks to conduct individual observations from the ground in the vicinity of 33 West Street, in order to keep track of the progress of the nestlings. Any change in the adult nighthawks’ behavior could indicate the loss of one or both chicks. Conversely, if the chicks thrive, we can expect to see them taking short flights sometime the second week in July. If you can watch at this site anytime in the next few weeks, please let us know. The best vantage points are from the stoop of 34 West Street or the parking lot behind the Cheshire County Administration building, off of Winter Street.

Important Reminders:

  1. Strive to watch for the full time from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
  2. Feel free to move around to get the best view.
  3. Be precise in your descriptions, particularly with regard to timing and the location of birds as they land on or fly off a roof.
  4. Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
  5. Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
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June 14, 2018

A Hopeful Start to the Season

Common Nighthawk in flight. (photo © Gordon F. Brown)

Common Nighthawk in flight.
(photo © Gordon F. Brown)

On our first coordinated nighthawk survey of the season on June 14, we identified 2 individual birds at Keene State College, and a possible third at Central Square. All of the birds were exhibiting promising behavior.

A Nest at KSC?

Nighthawk watchers observed a male diving, booming, and peenting over Elliot Hall continuously from 7:39 to 8:54 p.m., and again from 8:57 to 9:04. They also saw a second, silent bird at 8:54, and watched the male land twice on the Elliot roof — all promising signs!

A Nest at Central Square?

Across town, our other team caught a fleeting glimpse of a silent nighthawk (presumably a female) flying low in the vicinity of the Cheshire County Administration Building at 33 West Street. This is a curious sighting, as it’s rare to see a female nighthawk unaccompanied by a displaying male. Was it the KSC female, foraging or investigating an alternative nest site, or a different bird entirely? If it was a different bird, it could be a second nesting female.

Now what?

We are still interested in your nighthawk sightings − especially booming and diving − from other parts of town, but it’s important to continue monitoring at KSC and at Central Square. If there’s a nest at either site, the birds should exhibit a fairly predictable pattern of behavior.

You can help.

We need people to watch Elliot Hall and the Cheshire County Administration Building for nighthawks from 8 to 9:20 p.m. on calm, clear nights over the next week or so. The best vantage point for Elliot Hall is from the sidewalk and parking lot behind the library. The best vantage point for the Cheshire County building is from the stoop of 34 West Street or from the parking lot behind the building, off of Winter Street.

While you’re out there: be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing; record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here); and email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch. Remember: reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity, especially at the potential nest site. Peent!

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Contact Us

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