Nightjar

Caprimulgus europaeus

26-28cm

Appearance

The tail and wings are long, the head is flat, eyes bulgy and dark, and the short bill is wide. Plumage is highly camouflaged and the sexes vary slightly. The male is grey, brown and black and his wing-tips and the tip of his tail are white. Females and juveniles are similar, but they don't have the white sections.

Habitat

Breeding territories are open woodlands, heaths, open parklands and moors with at least some trees. In African winter habitats, prefers expansive grassland and forest clearings.

Character

Males are territorial and when displaying, they slap their wings above their body while flying. Dusk and dawn are the most active times, and this is also when they eat. May perch on a branch or on the ground during the day and is strongly camouflaged.

Food

Insects are caught while flying. Diet includes moths, beetles and flies.

Breeding

Female usually lays 2 eggs, which she incubates for 17-18 days with help from the male for some periods at dawn and dusk. Hatchlings learn to fly at about 18-19 days old and take a further 16 days until they're independent. A second brood is sometimes raised.

Population

This bird makes long distance migrations which aren't fully understood. They depart Africa (where they spend winter) around October or November. Males arrive in the region shortly after females at the end of April or the start of May. Approximately 4600 males spend summer in Britain and less than 10 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The best place to hear the song of these birds is in the southern heathland during May and after sunset. This is the best chance to see them in flight, too.

Voice

The male has an extended churring song that can go on for several hours, usually once the sun has gone down. Also has a flight call, 'kuu-lik'.
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