European Nightjar

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Image:EurNightjar.jpg

Common Name: European Nightjar
Scientific Name: Caprimulgus europaeus

Size: 9.6-11 inches (24.5-28 cm); Wingspan: 24.8-28.6 inches (63-72.7 cm)

Habitat: Eurasia and Africa; this species is highly migratory. All subspecies breeds across most of Europe eastwards through temperate Asia. They winter in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nightjars prefer mostly dry, open country, lowland heaths with scattered trees and bushes, commons and moorland, forest and woodland (especially glades, clearings and edges), recently felled woodland and young forestry plantations. Also chalk down-land, industrial waste tips, wooded or scrub-­covered steppe, sparsely forested or stony hillsides, oak scrub-land, sand dunes, semi-deserts and deserts. They tend not to breed in urban areas, mountains, steppes, treeless plains, dense forest interior, mature plantations, cultivation and tall grassland, but not infrequently forages over such areas as farmland, gardens, reed beds and wet habitats (e.g. marshes). They winter in wooded country, dry coastal acacia steppe, forest clearings, open sandy country and highlands. They have been recorded from sea-level to 2800 m on their breeding grounds, and up to 5000 m during winter.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 2,000,000-6,000,000 adult individuals with a decreasing population trend. The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction, pesticide use reducing the availability of food, and disturbance, especially in Northwestern Europe.

Diet: Moths, beetles, mantises, mayflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches, wasps, bees, antlions, lacewings, caddisflies and flies. They will occasionally takes butterflies and flightless glow-worms, and also feed on spiders and mites. Grit and small stones are also ingested and vegetable matter; this is probably taken accidentally.

Their foraging flight is agile and buoyant. They hunt over open country, in clearings, along woodland edges and borders,and in meadows and farmland, around grazing animals, and over stagnant ponds. They may also make short flycatching sallies from ground or low perches, and hover close to vegetation to take food from foliage. They rarely feed on the ground, and if so, they do so by darting forward to take their prey. They usually hunt alone, but loose feeding flocks sometimes occur. It may forage diurnally on overcast days.

Nesting: Sexes are dimorphic. The upper parts are grayish-brown, streaked blackish-brown with indistinct pale buff nuchal (back of the neck) collar. The lesser coverts are brown and the rest of wing-coverts are grayish-brown, spotted buffish, and showing a buff line across fore-wing and buff line along the scapulars. There is a broad buffish-white sub-moustachial stripe and a white throat patch. The under parts are gray-brown, barred brown and spotted buff, becoming buff barred brown on belly and flanks.

The male has a white spot on three (occasionally four) of the outermost primaries and white tips on the two outermost tail feathers. The female lacks these white markings. The iris is dark brown, the bill is blackish, and the legs and feet brown or tan.

Racial variations can occur by region; the birds becoming smaller and paler in the further Eastward parts of their range, with the white wing spots of males becoming larger.

Breeding occurs in late May to August and breeding is often influenced by the lunar phase. They have single or double-broods and are generally monogamous. The nest-site is in the open, beneath a tree, bush or shrub, found within upturned tree roots or among vegetation. There is no physical nest (a "scrape" nest type) and eggs are laid on ground, on leaf litter, pine needles or bare soil. The clutch is usually 1–2 eggs which are elliptical, smooth and fairly glossy, whitish, grayish-white or cream, spotted and blotched yellow-brown, dark brown and gray or densely scrawled brown and gray, rarely unmarked. They are laid at intervals of 36–48 hours. The incubation is done mainly by the female over a period 17–21 days. The brooding period takes 10–16 days and is also performed mostly by the female.

Cool Facts: Nightjars drink in flight by swooping down into ponds and steams.

There are six subspecies:

  • C. e. europaeus, first reported by Linnaeus in 1758. The nominate species is found in Northern & Central Europe, eastward through North-central Asia (mainly south of c. 60° N) to the lower Baikal region.
  • C. e. meridionalis, first reported by E. J. O. Hartert in 1896. It is found in Northwestern Africa and Iberia, eastward through Southern Europe, Crimea, Caucasus and Ukraine to Northwest Iran and the Caspian Sea.
  • C. e. sarudnyi, first reported by E. J. O. Hartert in 1912. It is found in Kazakhstan from Caspian Sea, eastward to Kyrgyzstan, Tarbagatai and Altai Mountains..
  • C. e. unwini, first reported by A. O. Hume in 1871. It is found in Iraq and Iran East to West Tien Shan and Kashgar region, North to South Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and South to West Northern Pakistan.
  • C. e. plumipes, first reported by Przevalski in 1876. It is found in East Tien Shan (Northwestern China and Western & Southern Mongolia).
  • C. e. dementievi, first reported by Stegmann in 1949. It is found in Southern Transbaikalia and Northeastern Mongolia.

Poets sometimes use the nightjar as an indicator of warm summer nights, as in George Meredith's "Love in the Valley"...

Lone on the fir-branch, his rattle-notes unvaried
Brooding o'er the gloom, spins the brown eve-jar

In Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill"...

and all the night long I heard,
blessed among stables,
the nightjars flying with the ricks,

In Wordsworth's "Calm is the fragrant air"...

The busy dor-hawk chases the white moth
With burring note. Nightjars only sing when perched

Thomas Hardy referenced the eerie silence of a hunting bird in "Afterwards":

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn.

Caprimulgus and the old name "goatsucker" both refer to the myth, old even in the time of Aristotle, that nightjars suckled from nanny goats, which subsequently ceased to give milk or went blind. This ancient belief is reflected in nightjar names in other European languages, such as German Ziegenmelker and Italian succiacapre, which also mean “goatsucker”, but despite its antiquity, it has no equivalents in Arab, Chinese or Hindu traditions. It is likely that the birds were attracted by insects around domestic animals, and, as strange nocturnal creatures, were then blamed for any misfortune that befell the beast.

Another old name, "puckeridge", was used to refer to both the bird and a disease of farm animals, the latter actually caused by botfly larvae under the skin. "Lich fowl" (corpse bird) is an old name which reflects the superstitions that surrounded this strange nocturnal bird. Like "gabble ratchet" (corpse hound), it may refer to the belief that the souls of unbaptized children were doomed to wander in nightjar form until Judgment Day.


Found in Songbird ReMix Frogmouths, Nightjars & Goatsuckers

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