Caprimulgus europaeus


Arriving here in April and May from their wintering grounds in Africa, nightjars nest on the ground on heathland and in young conifer woods. They are nocturnal, feeding on moths, flies and beetles. Amazingly well camouflaged, it is best to look for nightjars at dusk during May and June when the males can be seen displaying to females, flying around them, wing-clapping and calling. The call of the male nightjar is a distinctive 'churring' sound and often the best indicator they are about.

How to identify

If seen well, the nightjar is unmistakeable; its cryptic, bark-like plumage hiding it amongst the undergrowth. Adults have flat heads, a small bill with a surprisingly large gape and big eyes. Males have white patches towards the end of the wings and at the end of the tail; females lack these.

Where to find it

A rare summer visitor to England, Wales and southern Scotland.


When to find it

  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

How can people help

Nightjars suffered massive declines in the 1980s due to loss of habitat; over 80% of lowland heathland in the UK has been lost in just 200 years. Nesting on the ground also means that nightjars are very sensitive to disturbance. The parents can easily be scared off their nests by walkers and particularly their dogs, leaving the eggs vulnerable to predators. Ensuring breeding birds are not disturbed and heathland nature reserves are well-managed are just some of the ways The Wildlife Trusts are helping this bird to survive. You can help too: volunteer for The Wildlife Trusts and you could be involved in everything from clearing scrub to raising awareness about nesting birds. And don't forget to keep dogs on leads in areas where ground-nesting birds are breeding.

Species information

Common name
Latin name
Caprimulgus europaeus
Swallows, martins, swifts and nightjars
Length: 26-28cm Wingspan: 60cm Weight: 83g Average Lifespan: up to 11 years
Conservation status
Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Classified in the UK as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review and as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.