Quick facts

Common names: nightjar

Scientific name: Caprimulgus europaeus

Family: Caprimulgidae (nightjars)

Habitat: open conifer woodland, heathland and moorland

Diet: moths, beetles, flies

Predators: chicks and eggs are taken by pine martens, foxes and hedgehogs

Origin: native

What do nightjars look like?

This unusual-looking bird has an enigmatic appearance, with perfectly camouflaged, grey-brown mottled plumage that resembles the bark of a tree. A similar shape to a kestrel, the nightjar has a distinct pointed tail, a flat head, large dark eyes and a small yet wide bill.

Males have bright white patches on the tips of their wings and tail which are flashed when displaying to other males and females.

It measures around 25-28cm in length and weighs in at approximately 80g

What do nightjars eat?

The nightjar’s diet is made up of invertebrates, including moths, flies and beetles. It is nocturnal and spends its nights hunting for food, catching it on the wing thanks to its wide mouth and silent flight.

Nightjar eggs in a mossy nest

Credit: Gillian Pullinger / Alamy Stock Photo

How do nightjars breed?

These birds usually breed from late May to August. They do not build a nest, instead laying eggs directly on the ground, where their bark-like camouflage helps them resemble a log. They lay approximately two eggs, and usually have two broods while in the UK. After around 20 days the chicks hatch, fledging a couple of weeks later.

Do nightjars migrate?

Nightjars arrive in the UK from Africa during the spring, usually around April-May. They spend the summer months here before migrating back south during September.

Did you know?

The Latin name for the nightjar means ‘goatsucker’. This is because some people used to believe these birds would feed on goat’s milk as they were often found in close proximity to them.

Where do nightjars live?

Nightjars favour heathland, moorland and young conifer woods. They can be found in parts of southern Scotland, Wales and England during the summer months.

Did you know?

Some believe that flapping a white handkerchief in the air at night will attract male nightjars.

Signs and spotting tips

As these birds are elusive and camouflage well, chances of spotting them are slim. You might hear them at dusk however; the male has a distinct ‘churring’ call.

Threats and conservation

The nightjar is listed as an Amber species under the Red List for Birds, meaning it is a species of conservation concern. Loss of habitat for breeding is believed to be the biggest issue for nightjar populations.

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