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Conservation status: Amber

Nightjars are nocturnal birds and can be seen hawking for food at dusk and dawn. With pointed wings and a long tails their shape is similar to a kestrel or cuckoo. Their cryptic, grey-brown, mottled, streaked and barred plumage provides ideal camouflage in the daytime. They have an almost supernatural reputation with their silent flight and their mythical ability to steal milk from goats. The first indication that a nightjar is near is usually the male's churring song, rising and falling with a ventriloquial quality.



Latin name

Caprimulgus europaeus


Nightjars (Caprimulgidae)

Where to see them

Found on heathlands, moorlands, in open woodland with clearings, and in recently felled conifer plantations. Most numerous in southern England with good numbers in the New Forest, Dorset and Surrey heathlands, and Thetford forest in Suffolk. Also found in parts of Wales, northern England and SW Scotland. RSPB reserves with nightjars are: Arne, Dorset; Aylesbeare, Devon; and Minsmere and North Warren, Suffolk.

When to see them

Arrives in the UK between late April to mid-May, they are best looked and listened for at dusk on warm, still, summer evenings. They mainly leave in August and September.

What they eat

Insects - moths and beetles.


EuropeUK breeding*UK wintering*UK passage*
-4,600 males--




Niels Krabbe, Xeno-canto

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