Species profile

Name: the nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) – or European nightjar, common goatsucker, and Eurasian nightjar – is a nocturnal bird found across Europe and Asia.

Appearance: their patterned grey and brown feathers make them difficult to spot in the daytime when they rest on the ground or on branches. When flying they can be spotted by their distinctively long pointed wings.

Size: nightjars reach around 25 cm long with a wingspan around 55 cm and a weight of 50 to 100 grams.

Diet: they feed on a variety of insects which they catch in flight. They hunt at night thanks to their large reflective eyes which help them to see in the dark.

Did you know: nightjars have adapted to life at night – hiding during the day and taking to the air at dusk with a strange vibrating song. Their nocturnal exploits have made them a figure in stories, poetry, and folklore for thousands of years. The old name for nightjars was goatsuckers – from the belief that they suckled from goats causing them to turn blind and stop giving milk. Other tales tell that the souls of unbaptised children are doomed to wander the Earth as nightjars until Judgement Day. They have also been immortalised by a long line of poets, with Dylan Thomas writing “all the night long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars, flying with the ricks.

Location: nightjars prefer dry, open country with trees and small bushes such as heaths, forest clearings, or newly planted woodland. They can be found across Europe and Asia, as well as northwest Africa and the Middle East.

Where to see nightjars

According to reports submitted to WildSide, you can see nightjars in the following places:

Place Chance to see User rating No. reports
New Forest
very high
very good

Photo credit: Natural England under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr 

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