Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular birds in the subfamily Caprimulginae and in the family Caprimulgidae, characterised by long wings, short legs and very short bills. They are sometimes called goatsuckers, due to the ancient folk tale that they sucked the milk from goats (the Latin for goatsucker is Caprimulgus), or bugeaters, due to their insectivore diet. Some New World species are called nighthawks. The English word 'nightjar' originally referred to the European nightjar.
Nightjars are found around the world except in New Zealand and some islands of Oceania. They are mostly active in the late evening and in early morning or at night, usually nest on the ground, and feed predominantly on moths and other large flying insects.
Most have small feet, of little use for walking, and long pointed wings. Their soft plumage is cryptically coloured to resemble bark or leaves. Some species, unusual for birds, perch along a branch, rather than across it. This helps to conceal them during the day.
The common poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttallii, is unique as a bird that undergoes a form of hibernation, becoming torpid and with a much reduced body temperature for weeks or months, although other nightjars can enter a state of torpor for shorter periods.
Nightjars lay one or two patterned eggs directly onto bare ground. It has been suggested that nightjars will move their eggs and chicks from the nesting site in the event of danger by carrying them in their mouths. This suggestion has been repeated many times in ornithology books, but surveys of nightjar research have found very little evidence to support this idea.
|Great eared nightjar|
|Global range of nightjars and allies|
Traditionally, nightjars have been divided into three subfamilies: the Caprimulginae, or typical nightjars with 79 known species, and the Chordeilinae, or nighthawks of the New World with 10 known species. The two groups are similar in most respects, but the typical nightjars have rictal bristles, longer bills, and softer plumage. In their pioneering DNA-DNA hybridisation work, Sibley and Ahlquist found that the genetic difference between the eared nightjars and the typical nightjars was, in fact, greater than that between the typical nightjars and the nighthawks of the New World. Accordingly, they placed the eared nightjars in a separate family: Eurostopodidae (9 known species), but the family has not yet been widely adopted.
Subsequent work, both morphological and genetic, has provided support for the separation of the typical and the eared nightjars, and some authorities have adopted this Sibley-Ahlquist recommendation, and also the more far-reaching one to group all the owls (traditionally Strigiformes) together in the Caprimulgiformes. The listing below retains a more orthodox arrangement, but recognise the eared nightjars as a separate group. For more detail and an alternative classification scheme, see Caprimulgiformes and Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy.
|Phylogeny of Caprimulgidae|
Also see a list of nightjars, sortable by common and binomial names.
The nightjars have a global distribution, being found on all the continents other than Antarctica. They are also absent from some extremely arid deserts, such as the Sahara Desert and the deserts of central Asia, and polar regions of the far north. They are also found in some island groups such as Madagascar, the Seychelles, New Caledonia and the islands of Caribbean. The nighthawks have a New World distribution, and the eared nightjars are Asian and Australian, whereas the typical nightjars are global in distribution.
Nightjars can occupy all elevations from sea-level to 4,200 m (13,800 ft), and a number of species are montane specialists. They occupy a wide range of habitats, from deserts to rainforest, but are most common in open country with some vegetation.
A number of species undertake migrations, although the secretive nature of the family means these are poorly understood. Species that live in the far north, such as the European nightjar or the common nighthawk, will move south with the onset of winter. Geolocators placed on European nightjars in southern England found they wintered in the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other species make shorter migrations.
Some species of nightjar are threatened with extinction. It has been suggested that road-kills of this species by cars is a major cause of mortality for many members of the family. This is because of their habit of resting and roosting on roads.
Working out conservation strategies for some species of nightjar presents a particular challenge common to other hard-to-see families of birds; in a few cases, scientists do not have enough data on whether a bird is rare or not. This has nothing to do with any lack of effort. It reflects, rather, the difficulty in locating and identifying a small number of those species of birds among the 10,000 or so that exist in the world, given the limitations of human beings. A perfect example is the Vaurie's nightjar in China's south-western Xinjiang. It has been seen for certain only once, in 1929, a specimen that was held in the hand. Surveys in the 1970s and 1990s failed to find it. It is perfectly possible that it has evolved as a species that can really be identified in the wild only by other Vaurie's nightjars, rather than by humans. As a result, scientists do not know whether it is extinct, endangered, or even locally common.
Alan Moore's Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths is a three-issue comic book miniseries presenting work written by influential comics writer Alan Moore, based on the writings of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was published by Avatar Press in 2003.Egyptian nightjar
The Egyptian nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius) is a medium-small nightjar which occurs in south west Asia and north Africa and winters in tropical Africa. This is a fairly common species with a wide distribution which faces no obvious threats apart from habitat destruction, so the International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated its conservation status as being of "least concern".European nightjar
The European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), Common goatsucker, Eurasian nightjar or just nightjar, is a crepuscular and nocturnal bird in the nightjar family that breeds across most of Europe and temperate Asia. The Latin generic name refers to the old myth that the nocturnal nightjar suckled goats, causing them to cease to give milk. The six subspecies differ clinally, the birds becoming smaller and paler towards the east of the range. All populations are migratory, wintering in sub-Saharan Africa. Their densely patterned grey and brown plumage makes individuals difficult to see in the daytime when they rest on the ground or perch motionless along a branch, although the male shows white patches in the wings and tail as he flies at night.
The preferred habitat is dry, open country with some trees and small bushes, such as heaths, forest clearings or newly planted woodland. The male European nightjar occupies a territory in spring and advertises his presence with a distinctive sustained churring trill from a perch. He patrols his territory with wings held in a V and tail fanned, chasing intruders while wing-clapping and calling. Wing clapping also occurs when the male chases the female in a spiralling display flight. The European nightjar does not build a nest, and its two grey and brown blotched eggs are laid directly on the ground; they hatch after about 17–21 days and the downy chicks fledge in another 16–17 days.
The European nightjar feeds on a wide variety of flying insects, which it seizes in flight, often fly-catching from a perch. It hunts by sight, silhouetting its prey against the night sky. Its eyes are relatively large, each with a reflective layer, which improves night vision. It appears not to rely on its hearing to find insects and does not echolocate. Drinking and bathing take place during flight. Although it suffers a degree of predation and parasitism, the main threats to the species are habitat loss, disturbance and a reduction of its insect prey through pesticide use. Despite population decreases, its large numbers and huge breeding range mean that it is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as being of Least Concern.Fiery-necked nightjar
The fiery-necked nightjar (Caprimulgus pectoralis) is a species of nightjar in the family Caprimulgidae, which occurs in Africa south of the equator. Its distinctive and frequently uttered call is rendered as 'good-lord-deliver-us'. It is replaced in the tropics by a near relative, the black-shouldered nightjar. In addition to the latter, it forms a species complex with the Montane and Ruwenzori nightjars.Freckled nightjar
The freckled nightjar (Caprimulgus tristigma) is a species of nightjar in the family Caprimulgidae.
It is found in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.Gloster Nightjar
The Nightjar was a British carrier-based fighter aircraft of the early 1920s. It was a modification of the earlier Nieuport Nighthawk fighter produced by Gloster after the Nieuport & General company, which designed the Nighthawk, closed down. Twenty-two were converted, serving with the British Royal Air Force from 1922 to 1924.Great eared nightjar
The great eared nightjar (Lyncornis macrotis) is a species of nightjar in the family Caprimulgidae. It is the largest species in the family in terms of length, which can range from 31 to 41 cm (12 to 16 in). Males weigh an average of 131 g (4.6 oz) and females weigh an average of 151 g (5.3 oz) so it the second heaviest species in the family after the nacunda nighthawk.Grey nightjar
The grey nightjar (Caprimulgus jotaka) is a species of nightjar found in East Asia. It is sometimes treated as a subspecies of the jungle nightjar (C. indicus), its South Asian relative.Indian nightjar
The Indian nightjar (Caprimulgus asiaticus) is a small nightjar which is a resident breeder in open lands across South Asia and Southeast Asia. Like most nightjars it is crepuscular and is best detected from its characteristic calls at dawn and dusk that have been likened to a stone skipping on a frozen lake - a series of clicks that become shorter and more rapid. They are sometimes spotted on roads when their eyes gleam red in the spotlight of a vehicle. There is considerable plumage variation across its range and can be hard to differentiate from other nightjars in the region especially in the field.Jungle nightjar
The jungle nightjar (Caprimulgus indicus) is a species of nightjar found in Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka. It is found mainly on the edge of forests where it is seen or heard at dusk. The taxonomy of this and related nightjars is complex and a range of treatments have been followed that cover this and several other nightjars in the Asian region. It was formerly called the grey nightjar or Indian jungle nightjar and sometimes included the East Asian grey nightjar (C. jotaka) as a subspecies.Large-tailed nightjar
The large-tailed nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus) is a species of nightjar in the family Caprimulgidae.
It is found along the southern Himalayan foothills, eastern South Asia, Southeast Asia and northern Australia. This species is a resident of the countries of Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, subtropical or tropical mangrove forest, and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest.
In Malaysia it is known to frequent cemeteries at night, hence its rather macabre common name burung tukang kubur ("graveyard nightjar").Long-tailed nightjar
The long-tailed nightjar (Caprimulgus climacurus) is a species of nightjar in the family Caprimulgidae. It is found in Africa where it occurs in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda.Montane nightjar
The montane nightjar, mountain nightjar or Abyssinian nightjar (Caprimulgus poliocephalus) is a species of nightjar in the family Caprimulgidae. It is native to upland regions of Central and Eastern Africa where it is a locally common species.New Zealand owlet-nightjar
The New Zealand owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles novazelandiae) was a large species of owlet-nightjar (family Aegothelidae) formerly endemic to the islands of New Zealand. Fossil remains (which are common in the pellets of the extinct laughing owl) indicate the species was once widespread across both the North Island and the South Island. Despite a small number of reports of small owls being found in the 19th century that may have been New Zealand owlet-nightjars, the species is thought to have become extinct around 1200 AD.
The New Zealand owlet-nightjar was the largest species of owlet-nightjar, weighing an estimated 150–200 g. The species was also either flightless, as suggested by its small wings, or a very poor flier (the species has a strong keel). The diet probably consisted of invertebrates, as well as frogs and lizards.
The species rapidly became extinct after the introduction of Pacific rats to New Zealand. Their remains have never been found in association with Māori middens, and are unlikely to have been hunted due to their small size and nocturnal habits.Owlet-nightjar
Owlet-nightjars are small crepuscular birds related to the nightjars and frogmouths. Most are native to New Guinea, but some species extend to Australia, the Moluccas, and New Caledonia. A flightless species from New Zealand is extinct. There is a single monotypic family Aegothelidae with the genus Aegotheles.
Owlet-nightjars are insectivores which hunt mostly in the air but sometimes on the ground; their soft plumage is a cryptic mixture of browns and paler shades, they have fairly small, weak feet (but larger and stronger than those of a frogmouth or a nightjar), a tiny bill that opens extraordinarily wide, surrounded by prominent whiskers. The wings are short, with 10 primaries and about 11 secondaries; the tail long and rounded.Pennant-winged nightjar
The pennant-winged nightjar (Caprimulgus vexillarius) is a species of nightjar that occurs from Nigeria to northern South Africa. It is an intra-African migrant and displays remarkable sexual dimorphism in the breeding season.Savanna nightjar
The savanna nightjar (Caprimulgus affinis) is a species of nightjar found in South and Southeast Asia. Eight subspecies are recognised: C. a. monticolus, C. a. amoyensis, C. a. stictomus, C. a. affinis, C. a. timorensis, C. a. griseatus, C. a. mindanensis and C. a. propinquus. Its habitat is open forest and areas with scrub. Its length is about 25 cm (9.8 in). The upperparts are brownish-grey and vermiculated, with pale brown speckles. The underparts are brown, with bars. The savanna nightjar is nocturnal. Its song is a squeaky kweek kweek. The IUCN Red List has assessed the species to be of least concern because it has a large range and its population trend is stable.Swamp nightjar
The swamp nightjar (Caprimulgus natalensis) is a species of nightjar in the family Caprimulgidae.
It is found in Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.Sykes's nightjar
Sykes's nightjar or the Sindh nightjar (Caprimulgus mahrattensis) is a nightjar species found in northwestern South Asia.
The name commemorates Colonel William Henry Sykes, who served with the British military in India.