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 hopefully there’s joy in the journey.
Field Reports on This Page
Sadly, for the first time in more than a decade — nighthawks did not nest in Keene this summer. A single male was observed in passing on several occasions, but no other nighthawks were seen or heard during the breeding season, and no breeding displays were observed.
Becky Suomala of NH Audubon reported that “there were similar numbers of birds as last year in Concord [approximately 13 adults], although fewer confirmed nests.”
Ossipee Pine Barrens
The Ossipee Pine Barrens continue to be a stronghold of nighthawk activity in the Granite State, and Becky Suomala shared that the Ossippee birds were “at expected locations in typical numbers” in 2022. Here, nighthawks nest on the ground, in their natural habitat, rather than on rooftops.
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. This year, the Monadnock Region’s first migrants were seen in Keene on August 14, and hundreds were observed flying above Powdermill Pond in Hancock on August 19, 20, and 21. You can learn more about the migration here.
If you’d like to search for the spectacle with other nighthawk aficionados in Keene, join us for a pop-up outing near Green Wagon Farm on Thursday, August 25. (Learn more & register here.)
If you want to look on your own, remember that nighthawk behavior changes during migration: the best time to see migrating birds is between 5:30 and 7:30 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 and early September!
A Solemn Update
Over the past month, Project Nighthawk volunteers have conducted individual watches at a variety of locations, including Keene State College, 33 West Street, Gilbo Avenue, Production Avenue, Key Road, and Kit Road. On July 19, four teams fanned out across Keene for a coordinated survey, watching at Keene State College, Gilbo Avenue, the Hannaford’s shopping plaza on West Street, and along a driving route that included Production Avenue, Bradco Street, and Krif Road. Altogether, we’ve looked for nighthawks on eight different nights, but the only signs of their presence were two passing peents at Keene State College on May 31 and brief flybys at Ash Swamp Brook on June 14 and Kit Road on June 17.
Nighthawks are creatures of habit, particularly during the breeding season. If they were attempting to nest, we’d almost certainly have seen or heard them at one of their old haunts at some point in June or July.
It now seems clear that — for the first time in more than a decade — nighthawks are not nesting in Keene this summer.
Quiet Skies (So Far…)
This year’s nighthawk season has gotten off to a concerning start. Project Nighthawk volunteers and Harris Center interns have conducted individual watches near Elliot Hall at Keene State College on May 31 and June 6, and at 33 West Street on June 13. In addition, nine people fanned out to look and listen for nighthawks at four different sites — KSC, 33 West Street, the People’s United Bank at Gilbo Avenue, and Production Avenue — during a coordinated watch on the night of June 15. Despite all of that watching at their usual haunts and beyond, the only nighthawk observations so far this season in Keene have been two passing peents at KSC on May 31 and an unusual daytime flyby reported to eBird on June 14.
Every June for the last decade, nighthawks have returned to Keene State College. Their nesting attempts were often unsuccessful, but the birds were there. This year’s quiet — not just at KSC, but also at other nighthawk haunts — is worrisome. Our hope is that they’re still somewhere in Keene, and simply settling into a new breeding territory that we haven’t yet found. All we can do is keep looking.
You can help.
The only way to figure out if Keene is still home to nesting nighthawks is to keep looking for them in places with gravel roofs and/or open ground. If the birds are nesting elsewhere and that nest fails, it’s possible they’ll return to one of their tried-and-true sites to try again, so we’ll plan to do another group watch in July. At that time, we’ll need folks to revisit KSC, 33 West Street, and possibly Gilbo Avenue.
For now, though, it’s helpful to cover as many alternative sites with gravel roofs as possible. A few places to look: the Bull Moose or Vacuum Store buildings in the Hannaford’s shopping plaza on West Street; the northeast corner of Central Square in the vicinity of Luca’s, Bank of America, and the former Keene Middle School; Franklin School on Washington Street; Wheelock Elementary School on Marlboro Street; Symonds Elementary School on Wheelock Street; the Home Healthcare, Hospice & Community Services building on Marlboro Street; the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College; the Town Fair Tire building on Key Road; and any other buildings with flat gravel roofs. Take care, of course, not to trespass on private property!
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 or gray on aerial photos; vinyl roofs appear black or white. The only caveat is that Google does not reflect recent roofing work. For instance, KSC’s Media Arts Center roof was converted from gravel to vinyl four years ago, but still appears as gravel on Google.
(1) Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing.
(2) Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
(3) Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
(4) Reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity. Send those in as soon as possible, too.
For more information or to volunteer, please contact Brett Amy Thelen at (603) 358-2065 or by email.