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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. They have large flat heads with small bills, and big mouths, which have stiff bristles at the corners to help catch moths in flight..Their, mottled, streaked and barred plumage provides ideal camouflage in the daytime, during which their eyes are virtually kept closed all day. They have an almost silent flight and their mythical ability to steal milk from goats. They twist and turn with ease and are very elegant in flight, occasionally stopping for a moment on fluttering wings. Occasionally the wings clap together rather like a Woodpigeon at the top of his flight.
Found on heath lands, 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 heath lands, and Thetford forest in Suffolk. Also found in parts of Wales, northern England and SW Scotland. They rest during the day on branches or the ground, and lay two eggs directly on the ground.
Nightjars arrive in the UK between late April to mid-May, and are best looked and listened for at dusk on warm, still, summer evenings. They leave for Africa during August and September. Their diet is mainly Moths and Beetles taken from air following nocturnal pursuit;   you might try Mealworms to tempt them close to your vantage point.

Quick Facts

Number of broods

Number in Britain

Conservation Status UK

Status in UK
Migrant Breeder, Passage Visitor

27 cm



Open Country

First Record
10th Century

Egg Size
32x22 mm

Egg Weight
8.4 g

Clutch Size
2 eggs

18 days

18-19 days

First clutches laid
Late June

Age at First Breeding
1 year

Typical Lifespan
4 years

Maximum Recorded Age
11 years, 0 months

  • The notes that make up the nightjar's 'jar' or 'churr' are emitted at the rate of 30 or 40 per second   

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