Nighthawk Monitoring in the Age of COVID-19

We’re making a few changes to Project Nighthawk for the 2020 & 2021 field seasons. Here’s what you need to know.

Safety Considerations Before You Head Out

If you or anyone in your household has recently been exposed to COVID-19 or is experiencing flu-like symptoms, do not watch for nighthawks. The only exception to this is if you’re able to watch from your own yard.

Pack hand sanitizer and a face mask. If you find yourself alone once you arrive at your monitoring site, you might not need to wear the mask, but bring it — and use it whenever there’s a chance other people could cross your path.

If you are monitoring with anyone who does not live with you, travel to your monitoring site in separate cars. It’s not possible to maintain physical distancing inside a vehicle, so arrange to meet up at the site, rather than carpooling.

Safety Precautions In the Field

Pay strenuous attention to social distancing. This means staying at least 6 feet from any people who are not part of your household, including other nighthawk watchers. If you’re on a crowded sidewalk where it’s not possible to keep your distance, head home and try again another night.

Don’t share equipment. Assign one person to be the data recorder, and don’t pass the clipboard or pencil back and forth. Don’t share binoculars.

Group Surveys

Group surveys help us figure out how many individual breeding-season nighthawks we have in Keene. (For instance, if Barbara sees a nighthawk at Central Square at the exact same time that Jane sees a nighthawk over Keene Cinemas, we know that we have at least two individual birds.) In a normal year, we’d gather together at the start of each group monitoring night to break into teams, assign watch locations, synchronize our timepieces, and hand out walkie-talkies and data forms. Then, at the end of the night, we’d reconvene to share our notes, return the walkie-talkies, and talk nighthawks over ice cream.

This year, if we do group surveys, we will not gather together before or afterward. Instead, teams will download and print data forms ahead of time, head straight to their assigned locations, be in touch with project coordinator Brett Amy Thelen about any major sightings via cell phone or text over the course of the survey window, and submit photos of their data forms by email to Brett at the conclusion of the night. If you do not have access to a printer, we can mail copies to you with advance notice. You can also record observations in a field notebook — making sure to include all the information that would be found on the data form, and with the form pulled up on your phone or tablet for easy access to the behavior codes.

Individual Surveys

Given the need for continued social distancing, we will primarily be relying on individual surveys this summer — in which individuals or families pick a spot to watch for nighthawks, watch on their own, and report their findings by email to Brett. (As a reminder, data forms can be found here; we can also mail hard copies to you, upon request.)

When nighthawks are nesting, they exhibit a fairly consistent pattern of behavior. The more we watch, the better our chances of detecting nest success (or failure). Because roof checks will likely not possible this year (see below), behavioral observations may be our only clue that the birds are establishing territories, incubating eggs or feeding chicks, or that a given nest has failed. You can choose to watch as often or as little as you like, as your schedule, health, and interest allows.

Roof Checks

In a typical year, we’d follow up on behavioral observations of nighthawk activity by checking nearby rooftops for visual confirmation of nesting birds or chicks. With many buildings closed to the general public, that may not be possible this summer. Instead, we’ll primarily be relying on observations from individual surveys. (See above.)

Contact Us

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