Field Reports from the 2019 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 20, 2019

End-of-Season Summary

Keene

A mother nighthawk and her chick rest on a bed of gravel. (photo © Becky Suomala)

A nighthawk mama and her 32-day-old chick in Concord in late July. (photo © Becky Suomala)

Keene’s nighthawks were a mystery once again this year. We confirmed the presence of 3 individual birds in the Elm City this summer: two males and one probable female. However, despite several particularly promising watches, we could not confirm successful nesting.

Concord

In brighter news, Concord nighthawk watchers found one successful nest with two fledglings, and a probable second nest. They also confirmed nighthawk activity at all of last year’s nest sites.

Migration is now underway.

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 or Peterborough, 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.

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)

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 Labor Day, 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 in Keene or the Contoocook River in Peterborough, so keep your eyes to the skies in late August!

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July 12, 2019

A July Update

An illustration of nighthawks from an 1888 report on the birds of Pennsylvania. (photo courtesy Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Common Nighthawks, featured in an 1888 report on the birds of Pennsylvania. (photo courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

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

Keene

A solo watcher at KSC reported completely quiet skies on July 3. We haven’t received any other reports since late June.

Concord

In brighter news, a nest with two chicks — about 6-7 days old — was confirmed in Concord last week! There is also potential for a second nest on the roof of the Steeplegate Mall. If you’d like to help watch at the mall, please contact Becky Suomala at NH Audubon via email.

Now what?

The best way to figure out if the Keene pair re-nested after the failed attempt at KSC is to conduct individual watches — approximately once a week through the end of July, more often if there are nighthawks — at sites with strong nesting potential, based on past nighthawk activity. Good places to start: the Cheshire County Administration building at 33 West Street, the People’s United Bank on Gilbo Avenue, and Aubuchon Hardware in the Hannaford’s Plaza on West Street. Feel free to branch out to other spots that have buildings with flat, gravel roofs as well! Please let Brett Amy Thelen know if you’d like to conduct a watch in the next few weeks. Peent!

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 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 as soon as possible after your watch, even if you didn’t see any nighthawks. Even though they’re not as exciting as sightings of actual birds, these “null” data are still very helpful for pinpointing future search efforts.
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June 25, 2019

Wherefore Art Thou, Nighthawks?

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

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

During our second coordinated nighthawk survey of the season on June 24, volunteers fanned out across Keene in search of nighthawks at six different locations, selected based on past nighthawk activity and/or presence of multiple gravel roofs:

  • Elliot and Redfern Halls at KSC
  • West Street at Central Square
  • Washington Avenue at Central Square
  • the People’s United Bank on Gilbo Ave
  • Production Ave
  • Aubuchon Hardware, in the Hannaford’s plaza

In all that watching, the only nighthawk sighting was a single male at Elliot Hall, who peented and boomed for a mere two minutes, starting at 9:14 — fleeting activity that doesn’t indicate nesting.

Now what?

It’s still possible that the KSC birds will make another nesting attempt at a different location. If you hear booming, see nighthawks diving, or hear repeated peenting, 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 (despite the recent inactivity…): the People’s United Bank on Gilbo Avenue, the Cheshire County Administration building at 33 West Street, or Aubuchon Hardware in the Hannaford’s Plaza on West Street. Feel free to branch out to other spots that have buildings with flat, gravel roofs as well!

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 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 20, 2019

Disappointing News from KSC

A watchful nighthawk mama eyes a human interloper near her rooftop nest. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

A watchful nighthawk mama eyes a human interloper near her rooftop nest in 2016.
(photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

After observing promising behavior at Elliot Hall on both June 11 and 12, we were finally able to conduct a roof check on June 19. With help from the KSC Physical Plant staff, we searched both gravel roofs at Elliot Hall 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.

A small group of nighthawk watchers surveyed from the ground on June 20, and confirmed that the booming and diving at this site has ceased. It’s possible that last week’s heavy rainstorms led to a nest failure. We can’t know for sure if there ever was a nest, only that whatever was happening on the Elliot roof, sadly, is no longer happening…

Now what?

KSC: It’s early enough in the season that the birds could make a second nesting attempt at a different location, but we don’t yet know if or where they’ll re-nest. 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 Cheshire County Administration building at 33 West Street, or Aubuchon Hardware in the Hannaford’s Plaza on West Street (see below).

Aubuchon: A male was observed booming above the Aubuchon roof on June 12, but not on June 17, when only a handful of peents were heard. Based on the June 17 observation, it’s unlikely that there’s a nest at this site, but it’d be helpful to have a few more nights of watching under our belts, to be sure.

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 11, 2019

An Intriguing 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 11, we identified 2 individual birds at Keene State College, and a third over Aubuchon Hardware, in the Hannafords plaza off West Street. The KSC birds were exhibiting particularly promising behavior.

A Nest at KSC?

Nighthawk watchers at KSC observed a male diving, booming, and peenting over Elliot Hall nearly continuously from 8:51 to 9:31 p.m. They also saw a second, silent bird (presumably a female) at 8:58 and 9:15, and watched her land twice on the Elliot roof — all promising signs!

Activity at Aubuchon

Across town, another team heard a single male peenting over Aubuchon hardware — which does have a gravel roof — at 9:00 and again from 9:07 to 9:15. They didn’t observe any booming or additional birds, but booming can be hard to hear in noisy areas and female nighthawks are notoriously secretive.

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. If there’s a nest there, the birds should exhibit a fairly predictable pattern of behavior.

You can help.

We need people to watch for nighthawks at Elliot Hall from 8 to 9:20 p.m. on calm, clear nights over the next few weeks. The best vantage point is from the courtyard behind the library. It’d also be a good idea to keep an eye on the activity at Aubuchon, to see if we can catch a glimpse of a female bird or detect booming or diving on the part of the male.

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.