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The Robinson Library >> Order Caprimulgiformes
European Nightjar

Caprimulgus europaeus

European Nightjar


The European nightjar is 10-11 inches long, and has a wingspan of about 24 inches

Its plumage of grays, browns and russets makes it almost invisible when lying on the ground, looking much like a piece of bark. Males can be distinguished by their white spots on the primaries and white tips to the outer tail feathers. The bill is black, and the legs reddish brown.

Distribution and Habitat

This species of nightjar summers in northern and central Europe (May to October), and winters in sub-Saharan Africa as far south as the Cape. It requires low, sparse vegetation in which to nest, and lives in heathy wastes, bracken-covered slopes, and open woods.


European nightjars will travel a fair distance to preferred heathlands, deciduous or mixed woodlands, orchards, riparian and freshwater habitats, and gardens in order to feed. The principal diet consists of flying insects, which are usually caught on the wing.


Eggs are usually laid around the of May. No nest is built, the two eggs, creamy white mottled with brown, purple and liver, being placed on bare ground amongst bracken or stones. The male sometimes broods, but most of the incubation and nest protection is done by the female. If her eggs are threatened, the female uses distraction displays to draw intruders away. Chicks are covered with grey and brown down. They quickly become active, and leave the nest by mid-September.

Habits and Behaviors

Like most other nightjars, this species is most active at dawn and dusk, spending its day hidden away on the ground; it may not move even if almost stepped on.

The males have a characteristic churring song, similar to that of a cricket, which can be heard on warm summer evenings. He usually sings while lying or crouching along a bough or rail, occasionally from a post or branch.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Caprimulgiformes
family Caprimulgidae
genus & species Caprimulgus europaeus


Boreal Forests of the World

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This page was last updated on August 21, 2018.