Photographing The Nocturnal Nightjar

Written by Gina Stephens

They look a bit spooky with their oddly shaped beholds. The Romans even suspected them to suck milk from goats hence their latin name “caprimulgus” which means “goatsucker”. Be familiar with on to learn more about this mysterious bird.



Nightjars are nocturnal and crepuscular birds. They get their name from their incongruous cry but they owe their nickname “goatsuckers” to the Roman scholar and naturalist Pliny the Elder. The later wrote that they want suck the milk from goat at night and poison them, probably because nightjars often hunt insects near cattle. Nightjars’ bad name is not so surprising when you take a look at them: a broad head, slit-shaped deep black eyes, a broad beak fringed with crawls and a cryptically coloured plumage looking like tree bark. Thanks to their plumage, they can be extremely hard to spot when take no action on the ground or perched on a branch.



The European nightjar and the Red-necked nightjar are the only member of the family found in Europe. They can be inaugurate all over Europe except in the far north. The nightjar prefers warm-dry, open landscapes, preferably moors and heaths, but also pine forests with huge open spaces. Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular birds in the family Caprimulgidae, characterized by long wings, short legs and very short are migratory birds and spend winter in Africa. The population has been on the decline since the end of World War II, mainly because of the set-back of insect prey due to pesticide use and habitat destruction. Although they are globally classified as least concern by the IUCN they are red-listed as a cause of issue in the UK and close to extinction in Ireland.

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Bird Watching Tips

The nightjar is active at twilight and at night and spends the day resting on the ground or in trees. In example of disturbances, it first stays still and relies on its camouflage unless the troublemaker gets too close, in that case it simply flies away. Bird watchers should consequence make sure that they do not accidentally step on the well camouflaged bird.

One can easily identify the nightjar by its unusual singing: its song put in mind ofs of a distant engine noise and is often played for hours without interruption. After dusk, you can watch the nightjar hunting. Although the flight of the nightjar day in and day out reminds of a butterfly, it moves surprisingly purposefully while hunting and captures insects during demanding flight manoeuvres. It opens its beak along the same lines as a net just before reaching its prey. Who needs goat's milk when you're that good at hunting?


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About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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