Key facts

Scientific name: Caprimulgus europaeus

Status: Breeding summer visitor

Breeding birds: 4,600 males

Conservation status: Amber

Family: Nightjars

Length: 26 – 28 cm

Wingspan: 57 – 64 cm

Weight: 65 – 100 g


Adult male nightjars have grey-brown upperparts with dark streaks. Their upperwings are grey-brown with paler spots that form a line across the forewing and on their scapulars.

Their underparts are also grey-brown with brown bars and buff spots, and their bellies and flanks are buff with brown bars. Males have a white spot on the outer primary flight feathers and the outermost feathers have white tips.

Nightjars have grey-brown heads with a pale collar on the lower nape, a creamy-white malar stripe, and white throat patch. They have black bills with a large gape surrounded by bristles which they use for hunting. Their eyes are dark brown, and their short legs and feet are brown or pink.            

Female nightjars are similar to males, but they lack the white markings and their wing patches are a dull yellow.

Juveniles resemble females, again without the white markings.


Nightjars breed from late May to August, and they are generally monogamous.  They do not build nests but lay eggs directly on leaf litter or pine needles, beneath a tree or a shrub.

Nightjars lay 1-2 pale grey or cream eggs with brown, grey, and yellow spots and blotches. The female mainly incubates the eggs for 17-21 days. Chicks are semi-precocial and the female broods them for 10-15 days unless a second clutch is laid in which case the male broods them. They fledge at 10-17 days after hatching and are independent at one month.

If the female is threatened by a predator when she is on the nest she will perform an injury-feigning distraction.


Nightjars eat mostly insects including beetles, mayflies, dragonflies, and cockroaches. They will also occasionally eat butterflies, glow-worms, and spiders.


Where to see them

Nightjars can be seen in the UK from April to August. They can be found on heathland, moorland, and open woodland in southern England, and parts of northern England, Wales, and South West Scotland.

Look out for them at dusk on warm summer evenings.


Joost van Bruggen/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Did you know that nightjars are sometimes called goatsuckers because of an old folk tale that they would steal the milk from nanny goats during the midnight hour. The Latin for goatsucker is Caprimulgus.

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