Somewhere in an office. A guy has his computer open. On it there’s a screen saver: the famous, moody painting, “Nighthawks,” by Edward Hopper. It shows grim people at an all-night diner, and it’s a two-fisted painting.

What does this have to do with bird watching? Hold on. First of all, consider the two-fisted Hopper. He didn’t pull punches, showed things in a tough, hard light.

But bird watching comes to mind—obviously—because of the title of this, his best (my opinion), painting. It made me think about Nighthawks. Specifically the Common Nighthawks that I used to see in early Fall around here. They used to come in droves.

But I don’t see them these days. I think the world is getting better and worse at the same time. And this is one way it’s worse. Friends are out of work, and the sky is out of Common Nighthawks. What the hell?

These fast-flying birds with their long, notched wings were once common and now they’re not. The geniuses who rename birds ought to have a big meeting and change the Common Nighthawk to the Uncommon Nighthawk.

Nighthawks used to remind me of small, dark Ospreys. Their wings have a similar shape. And I liked their buzzing, chirping atonal calls. More of a cicada sound than a bird sound.

Our Nighthawks would hang around overhead at sunset, not going anywhere, just making weird noises and flying hawk-like, or swallow-like, in circles.

I thought they were scooping up mosquitoes, but maybe they were just enjoying the fact that they could fly, fly and squawk and watch the sun disappear.

But now they’ve disappeared. Maybe they’re flying around the night sky over Edward Hopper’s diner in some alternative universe where paintings are real. They’d fit the style of the place. Bleak, serious, unforgiving. Appropriate for a bird that’s missing and presumed dead.

If you want to see Hopper’s “Nighthawks” click on this: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/111628. Then click on the painting to enlarge it.

And if you want to see Nighthawks in real life, look up in early Fall, as night falls, and maybe you’ll get lucky. We haven’t, but maybe you will. Let us know.

4 Responses to ““Nighthawks.””

  1. Bird Feeders says:

    It has been a long time since I’ve seen a Common Nighthawk, with the exception of a quick glimpse of one after spooking it from its roost last year. Maybe I’ll have to check out that alternative reality you speak of…I’ll make sure I watch out for Campbell soup cans and men with pitchforks.

  2. Erik says:

    I’ve been trying to get my wife more interested in birding and two days ago had another great opportunity. We walked out of our house at dusk when a common nighthawk took off from the oak tree just above our heads. Unfortunately, she doesn’t yet grasp what a wonderful thing this is…

  3. marc davis says:

    One more comment…
    The Nighthawk has very small feet…almost invisible…and this brought to mind a piece of writing…It’s from”The Fugitive Kind,” the movie version of Tennessee Williams’ play “Orpheus Descending.”

    Marlon Brando tells Anna Mangani about a strange bird that no bird watcher, no matter how dedicated and vigilant, will ever see in this life. He says: “You can’t tell those birds from the sky and that’s why the hawks don’t catch them. Those little birds, they don’t have no legs at all and they live their whole lives on the wing, and they sleep on the wind. (Music fades in.) They sleep on the wind…and never light on this earth but one time when they die!”

    The Brando character is talking about himself, of course….

  4. marc davis says:

    In Hopper’s “Nighthawks” the artist gives visual utterance to the vast loneliness of urban life and how that emptiness can be filled, if only briefly over coffee, in an oasis of light and human contact in a nameless all-night diner. These human nighthawks have alighted momentarily like birds, down from their airborne predations, but ready soon to take flight once more, into the indifferent darkness of the city.