COVID-19 UPDATE: The Harris Center building will be closed to visitors until further notice. Our trails and grounds remain open.

Field Reports from the 2020 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 19, 2020

End-of-Season Summary

Keene

The KSC nighthawk female and chick on July 7, 2020. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

The KSC nighthawk female and chick on July 7, 2020.
(photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

For the first time since 2016, we confirmed the presence of successful nighthawk nesting in Keene! A rooftop nest at Keene State College produced one well-tended fledgling, who stayed onsite for 48 days — a statewide record for Project Nighthawk. Near as we can tell, those three birds were the only breeding-season nighthawks in Keene in 2020.

Concord

Concord nighthawk watchers coordinated by NH Audubon confirmed five nests — the highest number in many years. Most nests were identified by the behavior of the adults, but they did find one nest with two chicks. This year, Concord males were active as late as 11 p.m., much later than the usual 9:30 quiet time. Why was this year different, and only in Concord? We have no idea!

A male nighthawk in flight. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

The KSC male gives Project Nighthawk volunteers a sideways glance on June 23, 2020. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

Ossipee Pine Barrens

The Ossipee Pine Barrens were a hotbed of nighthawk activity, with a total of 13 males and 2-3 females tallied during a single watch by our partners at NH Audubon. The Nature Conservancy did some management which improved the habitat for nighthawks at one site, resulting in a remarkable five males and at least one female at that site alone. Here, the birds nest on the ground, in their natural habitat, rather than on rooftops.

Statewide

In total, Project Nighthawk staff and volunteers documented ten nighthawk nests in the state in the summer of 2020 – a fantastic number for this state-endangered bird. Fledged chicks were confirmed at four of the sites, and nest failure (cause unknown) was documented at two. There were four additional sites with probable or possible nesting.

Migration is now underway.

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. You can learn more about the migration here.

If you’d like to watch with other nighthawk aficionados in Keene or Hancock, 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 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 29, 2020

A Happy Update

Two Common Nighthawk chicks in a gravel "nest." (photo © Becky Suomala)

Nighthawk chicks at a nest site in a Concord-area gravel pit earlier this month. (photo © Becky Suomala)

“Our” chick has fully fledged, though it does still swing by Rhodes once in a while. Last Friday, there was even an animated chase involving the chick and both its parents! You can distinguish the chick from the adults — who also stop by Rhodes for brief nightly visits — by its slightly smaller size and teeter-tottering flight. The young’n is still mastering the art of aerial acrobatics.

As of last night, the chick was still around. Any night now, it could move on, but we’re counting this year a success for the KSC nighthawks.

Our breeding-season nighthawk watching is drawing to a close, but stay tuned for one last update with tips for watching the “fall” nighthawk migration, which peaks in late August….

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July 14, 2020

KSC Chick Making Short Flights

Rhodes Hall at KSC, with the female nighthawk just barely visible over the roofline. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Hide and seek: can you find the head of the female nighthawk, poking up over the Rhodes Hall roofline? Click on the image for a larger view. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

As of last night, the KSC nighthawk family is still alive and well. The chick is now making short flights and the parents are accordingly territorial — low diving over the sidewalk, along with some guttural quacking sounds they reserve for special (defensive) occasions. Presumably, now that the chick could land itself into trouble with ground predators, the parents are keeping closer watch on the nighthawk watchers below.

Now what?

We are still interested in your nighthawk sightings — especially booming and diving — from other parts of town, but it’s important to keep monitoring at KSC to see how long the chick sticks around. If all goes well, the parents will continue to feed the chick on or near the Rhodes roof for another 4-10 days. The longer the chick stays close to the nest site, the more time it’ll have to develop its flying skills and the better equipped it’ll be for evading aerial predators like hawks and owls when it finally flies away for good. Knowing how long young nighthawks are active at their nesting sites after fledging is also helpful for permit review related to the Endangered Species Act. (For instance, if a project is slated to occur at or near a known nest site, this kind of information could help determine how best to time construction activity for minimal disruption to the birds.)

You can help.

A male nighthawk dives in front of Rhodes Hall on June 30, 2020. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

A male nighthawk dives in front of Rhodes Hall on June 30, 2020. If you watch this week, you may see much lower dives than this. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

Watch for nighthawks at Rhodes Hall from 8:15 to 9:45 p.m. on calm, clear nights this week and next. The best vantage point is from the sidewalk between Rhodes and the library, though that could shift if the chick ventures further afield. Although it’s best if you can watch for the entire window of time, at this point simply knowing whether the adults are still active at the site on any given night is extremely helpful information. As long as the chick is there, the parents will be too — and once the chick flies away for good (or succumbs to a predator), adult activity at the site will quiet down considerably. From a birding perspective, some of the best watching could happen this week, as the adults engage in low-flying acrobatics (defensive behavior) and lots of roof landings (chick feeding). There’s also a chance of spying the young bird resting on the ground. If the adults are repeatedly diving low over your head, you can reduce their stress (and yours!) by backing away a bit.

A Few Important Reminders

(1) Be vigilant about following the COVID-19 precautions listed here.
(2) Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing.
(3) Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
(4) Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
(5) 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 nest site. Peent!

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July 7, 2020

KSC Chick Close to Fledging…

The KSC nighthawk female and chick on July 7, 2020. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

The KSC nighthawk female and chick on July 7, 2020.
(photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

The KSC nighthawk chick continues to grow on a steady diet of regurgitated bugs (yum!) and, if all goes well, will likely fledge sometime this week. The parents will continue to feed the chick for some time after its first flight, so there will hopefully be more nighthawk watching to come, although it might be tougher to find the birds once they’re no longer tied to the Rhodes roof. If past years are any indication, we could be in for some exciting aerial acrobatics (chases and low flying) as the fledgling learns to master the fine art of flight!

Chicks can also be quite vulnerable in the first few days after fledging, when they may fly well enough to leave the safety of their roof, but not well enough to return to it. This is an important time to keep watch on the nighthawk family, and to keep our feathers crossed for the chick’s survival.

Now what?

The KSC nighthawk female and chick on July 6, 2020, as viewed through binoculars. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

The KSC nighthawk female and chick, as seen through binoculars, on July 6, 2020. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

KSC
We are still interested in your nighthawk sightings — especially booming and diving — from other parts of town, but it’s important to keep monitoring at KSC so we can determine when and whether the chick has successfully fledged. The parents will continue to feed the chick even after it fledges, so if the young survives, we may be able to watch these birds for another month or so — though their location will be harder to predict as the chick grows increasingly capable of movement.

Watch for nighthawks at Rhodes Hall from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on calm, clear nights this week and next. The best vantage point right now is from the sidewalk between Rhodes and the library. (The building itself is locked and not open to the public during the pandemic.) If possible, team up with another socially-distant volunteer or two, so you can watch the building from different angles.

Elsewhere
Although it’s most important to monitor the KSC nighthawk family at this time, if you want to conduct individual watches at other sites with gravel roofs to determine if we have more than one breeding-season pair in Keene this year, we welcome that too.

Flat, gravel roofs that have not yet been watched this summer:

A male nighthawk perches on an orange construction fence at KSC. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

The KSC male perches on an orange construction fence outside Rhodes Hall (below eye-level!) on the evening of June 30, 2020. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

  • the northeast corner of Central Square (near Luca’s and Bank of America, both of which have gravel roofs)
  • Franklin School on Washington Street
  • Production Avenue
  • the apartment building between 93rd Street and Roxbury Plaza
  • the Town Fare Tire and Midas buildings on Key Road
  • the Home Healthcare, Hospice, and Community Services building on Marlboro Street

If you’re curious as to whether a building has a gravel roof, Google Maps satellite view is a great tool. Gravel roofs appear tan on aerial photos; vinyl roofs appear black or white. The only caveat here is that Google does not reflect recent roofing work. For instance, KSC’s Media Arts Center roof was converted from gravel to vinyl two summers ago, but still appears as gravel on Google.

A Few Important Reminders

(1) Be vigilant about following the COVID-19 precautions listed here.
(2) Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing.
(3) Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
(4) Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
(5) 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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June 26, 2020

A Chick at KSC!

A female nighthawk on a KSC rooftop. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

The KSC female roosts a chick (not visible) on a rooftop nest on June 25, 2020. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

This week, thanks to careful observations by Barbara, Dave, Kim, and Karen, we were able to confirm a nest with one fluffy chick on the roof of Rhodes Hall at KSC! Rhodes is just across the sidewalk from Elliot, and the male nighthawk had been doing a successful job of distracting us by displaying over Elliot when in fact his mate had been incubating eggs on Rhodes the whole time. The chick is likely just a few days old. This is the most vulnerable time in a nighthawk chick’s life, so there’s no guarantee it’ll survive to fledge, but for now, this is very good news!

Now what?

KSC
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 the chick survives, the parents will continue to feed it nightly, resulting in a fairly predictable pattern of behavior that can be observed from the sidewalk below. If the chick is predated, a change in the birds’ behavior will also clue us in to the failure. Nighthawk chicks typically take their first flight at 18 days old, and are able to make short flights at 21-23 days. The male will continue to feed the chick even after it fledges, so if the young survives, we may be able to watch these birds for a month or more to come — though their location will be harder to predict as the chick grows increasingly capable of movement, both on foot and on the wing.

A male nighthawk dives in front of Rhodes Hall on June 23, 2020. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

The KSC male flies above the lower roof of Rhodes Hall on June 23, 2020. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

Watch for nighthawks at Rhodes Hall from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on calm, clear nights over the next few weeks. The best vantage point is from the sidewalk between Rhodes and the library. (The building itself is locked and not open to the public during the pandemic.) If possible, team up with another socially-distant volunteer or two, so you can watch the building from different angles!

Elsewhere
Although it’s most important to monitor the KSC nighthawk family at this time, if you want to conduct individual watches at other sites with gravel roofs to determine if we have more than one breeding-season pair in Keene this year, we welcome that too.

For now, it’s best to focus on sites that have not yet been checked and found to be “all quiet” this year. Here are the list of “all quiet” sites that don’t need to be checked for at least another few weeks: Wheelock School, Symonds School, the Hannafords plaza, “Washington Park” (the old Keene Middle School), the old Kingsbury factory, and the western edge of Central Square.

A male nighthawk in flight. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

The KSC male gives an aerial side eye glance on June 23, 2020. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

Flat, gravel roofs that have not yet been watched: the northeast corner of Central Square (in the vicinity of Luca’s and Bank of America, both of which have gravel roofs), Franklin School on Washington Street, Production Avenue, the Redfern Arts Center at KSC, the apartment building between 93rd Street and Roxbury Plaza, the Town Fare Tire and Midas buildings on Key Road, and the Home Healthcare, Hospice, and Community Services building on Marlboro Street.

If you’re curious as to whether a building has a gravel roof, Google Maps satellite view is a great tool. Gravel roofs appear tan on aerial photos; vinyl roofs appear black or white. The only caveat here is that Google does not reflect recent roofing work. For instance, KSC’s Media Arts Center roof was converted from gravel to vinyl two summers ago, but still appears as gravel on Google.

A Few Important Reminders

(1) Be vigilant about following the COVID-19 precautions listed here.
(2) Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing.
(3) Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
(4) Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
(5) 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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June 19, 2020

A Promising Update

A nighthawk dives above the trees at KSC. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

The KSC male in mid-dive on June 17, 2020.
(photo © Dave Hoitt)

Volunteers have watched at Keene State College Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week, as well as several evenings last week. Each night this week and at least once last week, a male and probable female were observed, sometimes appearing to land on or fly off the roof of Elliot Hall, the library, or the connector between the two. On Thursday, our watcher reported that “a female came off the library roof and the male chased her like a fighter pilot for a couple minutes.” The constant presence of the pair, along with the timing of their activity, is strongly suggestive of nesting!

Now what?

KSC
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, the birds should exhibit a fairly predictable pattern of behavior. If the nest is flooded or predated, a change in the birds’ behavior will also clue us in to the failure. 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. If possible, team up with another socially-distant volunteer or two, so you can watch the building from different angles; this is your best chance for observing the female as she stealthily slips on or off the roof!

Elsewhere

A male nighthawk in flight. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

The KSC male in flight on June 17, 2020. Note the distinctive white throat patch. Females have a buff-colored throat patch, which is not as visible from afar.  (photo © Dave Hoitt)

We’d also love for folks to conduct individual watches at other sites with gravel roofs, to determine if we have more than one breeding-season pair in Keene this year. If the KSC (or another as-yet-unknown-to-us) nest fails, the birds could always re-nest in a location we’ve already checked, but that is not likely to happen for at least another few weeks. It’s also highly unlikely that a site with no observed nighthawk activity is hosting nesting birds.

So for now, it’s best to focus on sites that have not yet been checked and found to be “all quiet” this year. Here are the list of “all quiet” sites that don’t need to be checked for at least another few weeks: Wheelock School, Symonds School, the Hannafords plaza, “Washington Park” (the old Keene Middle School), and the western edge of Central Square.

Flat, gravel roofs that have not yet been watched: the northeast corner of Central Square (in the vicinity of Luca’s and Bank of America, both of which have gravel roofs), Franklin School on Washington Street, Production Avenue, the Redfern Arts Center at KSC, the apartment building between 93rd Street and Roxbury Plaza, the Town Fare Tire and Midas buildings on Key Road, and the Home Healthcare, Hospice, and Community Services building on Marlboro Street.

If you’re curious as to whether a building has a gravel roof, Google Maps satellite view is a great tool! Gravel roofs appear tan on aerial photos; vinyl roofs appear black or white. The only caveat here is that Google does not reflect recent roofing work. For instance, KSC’s Media Arts Center roof was converted from gravel to vinyl two summers ago, but still appears as gravel on Google.

A Few Important Reminders

(1) Be vigilant about following the COVID-19 precautions listed here.
(2) Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing.
(3) Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
(4) Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
(5) 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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June 16, 2020

Nighthawk Activity Continues at KSC

A female Common Nighthawk in flight. (photo © Tom Benson via the Flickr Creative Commons)

A female Common Nighthawk, photographed in California. Males have a conspicuous white tailbar and throat patch, both of which are absent here. (photo © Tom Benson)

Five teams of socially-distant nighthawk watchers conducted our first coordinated survey of the season in Keene on June 16. We focused on sites with known or historic activity (Keene State College, West Street at Central Square, and the Hannaford’s Plaza, further down West Street), as well as a few locations with no known activity but promising gravel roofs (the old Keene Middle School on Washington Street and Symonds School on Wheelock Street). Sadly, nary a peent was heard on West Street or Washington Street, and Symonds School saw only one passing male nighthawk. Based on the timing, we can not say with certainty that it was not the KSC male (see below) so at this point we can only confirm 2 individual nighthawks in Keene.

A Nest at KSC?

Nighthawk watchers observed a male booming over Elliot Hall at 9:00 and 9:29 p.m., and peenting but not booming at 9:04 and 9:09. They also saw a second bird fly by swiftly, silently, and low — possibly departing from the Elliot roof — at 8:59. While we’d typically expect the male to display more frequently over an active nest site, the fact that both the male and a probable female are both still there is promising.

Now what?

KSC. 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, the birds should exhibit a fairly predictable pattern of behavior. If the nest is flooded or predated, a change in the birds’ behavior will also clue us in to the failure. 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. If possible, team up with another socially-distant volunteer or two, so you can watch the building from different angles; this is your best chance for observing the female as she stealthily slips on or off the roof!

Elsewhere. We’d also love for folks to conduct individual watches at other sites with gravel roofs and/or a history of nighthawk activity, to determine if we have more than one breeding-season pair in Keene this year. Symonds School is worth at least one more watch, and if you know of a flat, gravel roof in your neighborhood, it certainly can’t hurt to spend a night watching there, too.

Remember…

(1) Be vigilant about following the COVID-19 precautions listed here.
(2) Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing.
(3) Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
(4) Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
(5) 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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June 10, 2020

A Hopeful Start to the Season

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

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

A trio of socially-distanced nighthawk watchers conducted the first watch of the 2020 season on June 8 at KSC, where they observed a male diving, booming, and peenting over Elliot Hall from 8:46 to 8:59 and again from 9:16 to 9:18 p.m. They also got three different glimpses of second, silent bird (presumably a female), which the male chased over the Elliot roof and adjacent parking lot at 8:53 — all promising signs that this pair may once again be investigating a rooftop nest site at KSC!

Now what?

We haven’t watched anywhere else just yet, so we’re interested in your nighthawk sightings − especially booming and diving − from other parts of town. It’s also 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.

KSC. The best vantage point is from the courtyard behind the library.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.

Elsewhere. We’d also love for folks to conduct individual watches at other sites with gravel roofs and/or a history of nighthawk activity, to determine if we have more than one breeding-season pair in Keene this year. Good places to start: the People’s United Bank on Gilbo Avenue; 33 West Street (near Central Square); and Aubuchon Hardware in the Hannaford’s shopping plaza on West Street.

Remember…

(1) Be vigilant about following the COVID-19 precautions listed here.
(2) Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing.
(3) Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
(4) Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
(5) 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.