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Kidadl Team

AUGUST 06, 2021

17 Amaze-wing Facts About The European Nightjar For Kids

Come join us in learning some interesting European nightjar facts!

Ever been confused while watching dry twigs move between the trees? Well, those are not any twigs - meet the European nightjars!

The European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) is abundantly present throughout Europe and parts of Asia as well and spends the winters in Africa. They prefer a dry environment, with small bushes and trees only. You can call this bird by various names, Eurasian nightjar, common goatsucker, or simply a nightjar!

There are six different subspecies under the nocturnal nightjar. The European nightjar size is small, and their bodies have grey or brown hues with multiple light spots, almost camouflaging them to the trees and twigs. These ground-nesting birds feed mainly on insects. Want to know a cool talent of the nightjars? They can bathe and drink while flying!

Fascinated about the European nightjar? You can read about other birds too on our pages, such as the hooded crow and the canyon wren!

European Nightjar Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a European nightjar?

The European nightjar is a type of bird.

What class of animal does a European nightjar belong to?

European nightjars breed belongs to the class Aves.

How many European nightjars are there in the world?

The most recent estimates of the population of the European nightjar breed were made in the year 2020, and a total of 3-6 million nightjars have been estimated as the surviving population.

Where does a European nightjar live?

The main breeding grounds of the European nightjars are in parts of Europe and northern Asia until Iran, Iraq, and the northwestern regions of the Himalayas as well as wintering on the African continent.

What is a European nightjar's habitat?

The European nightjar habitat includes open, drylands with lesser vegetation and bushes. These can be heaths, moorlands, cleared forests, or newly planted ones.

During the mating season, the nightjars avoid mountains, cities, farmlands, barren or heavily vegetated areas. Instead, they feed in gardens, wetlands, or agricultural areas. These birds are usually found living at altitudes of about 9200 ft (2800 m).

Who do European nightjars live with?

They generally live alone or in small groups, apart from during the mating and breeding season.

How long does a European nightjar live?

This species is known to live for just above 12 years in the wild.

How do they reproduce?

The breeding months of this species are between the months of May to August. The males come back to the breeding grounds at least two weeks prior to the females and establish their territories. Their territories are defended, with the nightjars patrolling around their areas with their wings arranged in a ‘V’ shape, and fanning their tails. In case of any intruders, they would clap their wings and squeal loudly.

These birds have only one partner for a long time. They do not build nests for laying eggs, instead, they are laid on the ground surface, usually behind bushes or trees, or even among roots of plants. It is quite often that the same site is reused for multiple years for breeding. The general clutch size is one to two eggs.

The eggs are usually laid around two weeks before the brightest night sky, the Full moon so that they can easily catch food for their hatchlings on bright nights.

Eggs are laid by the female nightjars usually about two days apart. The female begins the incubation process with the first egg and then shifts her duties between the eggs. The adult male might contribute to incubation, however, he spends his time roosting.

After about three weeks, the little eggs hatch open. They begin fledging after another two or three weeks, and at the age of four or five weeks, they are independent, ready to join their parents. The parents feed the little chicks with regurgitated food or put food into the chick’s mouth directly.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of the European nightjar has been listed as of Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

European Nightjar Fun Facts

What do European nightjars look like?

The body colors of the European nightjar breed make them camouflaged to their habitat.

The adult European nightjars have a grey to red-brown tint on their upper bodies. They also sport a white mustache-like streak.  They have a pale collar on the back of their neck. Their beaks are almost black and have deep red mouths and dark brown irises. The pointed wings are also of grey hue adorned with buff spotting, and the underparts turn into a brown-grey color with buff spots and chocolatey barring. Their legs and feet are of brown color as well.

The little chicks have downy brown bodies with a buffed plumage. As they grow, they begin looking similar to their mothers. Though they have tiny beaks, they are capable of opening their mouths really wide. Around the mouth, you can find long bristles which aid in locating the prey into the nightjar’s mouth.  The European nightjars also have wide, large eyes, each having a reflective tapetum lucidum placed right behind their retinas.

Of all the subspecies of this bird, the nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus europaeus has the largest body.

The C.e. meridionalis has a comparatively paler body and is a little smaller than the former. Individuals of the C.e. unwini have much lighter colors, and also are smaller in size. However, they have larger white spots on their bodies. The C. e. sarudnyi species is among the medium-sized nightjars, and more lightly hued than the other fellow subspecies. C. e. plumipes birds have many spots on the upper coverts as well as the scapular. Lastly, you can identify the C. e. dementievi species with its yellow-tinted bellies.

How cute are they?

These small birds are actually pretty cute!

How do they communicate?

The male nightjar’s song can go continuously for as long as 10 minutes, being a churring, piercing trill from a perch while having occasional changes in the pitch and the speed. These songs are more common during dawn and dusk. If the male notices a female approaching, it might end its songs by clapping its wings, or with a gurgling trill.

The females generally do not sing. These birds usually make a 'cuick-cuick' sound while chasing any predators. In situations of alarm, it might make a sharp ‘chuck’ sound. If the adults of chicks are disturbed when handled and would hiss aggressively. Else, they would make 'wuk-wuk' or 'oak-oak' sounds.

How big is a European nightjar?

This little bird has a body length of about 9.5-11 in (24.13-28 cm) and has a wingspan almost double its length, extending up to 20-23 in (51-58.5 cm).

It is almost three times the size of an Atlantic canary.

How fast can a European nightjar fly?

The speed at which they fly is currently unknown.

How much does a European nightjar weigh?

The male European nightjar is usually bigger than the female, weighing about 1.8-3.6 oz (51-102 g). The female European nightjar weighs 2.4-3.4 oz (68-96.4 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

There are no separate names for the male and female individuals of this species.

What would you call a baby European nightjar?

A baby bird, in general, is called a nestling, chick, or hatchling.

What do they eat?

The main part of the European nightjar’s diet is insects. Mantises, flies, moths, cockroaches, beetles, and even dragonflies. Name it, and you will see them feeding on it. They also eat glow worms lurking near vegetation. The little hatchlings feed on their own feces. They also consume grains of sand and small stones to help them in getting their prey digested. Preying for food is usually done in the dark hours of the night. They can catch insects while flying too.

Are they dangerous?

We do not term these nocturnal birds as dangerous.

Would they make a good pet?

We think these birds are better off in their natural environment.

Did you know...

This nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) is known for have crepuscular as well as nocturnal habits.

Six subspecies of the goatsuckers have been recognized. The variations are mainly noticed in their bodies - the different subspecies either get smaller, paler or even have varying degrees of white wing spots. The Caprimulgus europaeus europaeus, is found in abundance throughout northern and central Europe, as well as North Central regions of Asia. Caprimulgus europaeus sarudnyi have been located mainly between Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan. Caprimulgus europaeus plumipes have their population distributed across western Mongolia and even parts of Northwestern China. Caprimulgus europaeus unwini are seen in Iran and Iraq. Caprimulgus europaeus meridionalis individuals can be observed to the south of European countries, as well as northwest African regions. Caprimulgus europaus dementievi species can be found mainly in the northeastern lands of Mongolia.

Some common reasons for their populations decreasing includes parasitism, loss of insects, loss of habitat, predation, and even environmental disturbances.

You can easily find out the difference between the male and the female birds of this species. The male possesses white tips on two of his outer tail feathers, as well as a cream patch across three of his primary feathers. These can be spotted as the bird flies. However, you cannot see any white hue on the tail when the female bird flies.

If the female nightjar gets disturbed by an intruder amidst breeding, she would flutter on the ground helplessly, feigning injury until the intruder walks away.

It is mainly the eggs or chicks on the ground that fall into the clutches of the predators. Common threats are seen from European hedgehogs, red foxes, dogs, least weasels, and pine martens. Even birds such as owls, Eurasian jays, crows, Eurasian magpies are a few predators to be named. Snakes may also rob the eggs away.

The adults are not safe either and get preyed on by falcons such as the Sooty and Peregrine, northern Goshawks, Eurasian sparrowhawks, and even buzzards.

Naming the European nightjars

Nightjars might be a funny name given to these birds. But what is the reason behind it? These birds make loud jarring cries and sing a churring song, usually heard after the sunsets. Hence, the birds have been titled the ‘nightjars’. Did you know that these birds are also known as ‘goatsuckers’? An ancient superstition goes by that says that these little birds were known to open their mouths wide open to drink milk from goats, hence giving them the name.

Do European nightjars migrate?

These birds are mainly migratory birds, migrating to other regions mainly after the sun sets. These nightjars are known to spend their winters in the eastern and southeastern regions of the African continent mainly. However, some flocks choose Israel, Pakistan, and Morocco as their wintering grounds. When these birds migrate, they either choose to leave alone or fly together in small flocks of about 20 nightjars altogether. They prefer nights where the moon shines the brightest to begin their migration, preferably around a full moon. They prefer living in high altitudes of about 16,000 ft (5000 m) during the cold days.

Learn more about some other birds with our gray catbird facts, or Anna's hummingbird facts.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable European nightjar coloring pages.

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