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european nightjar perched on a branch

Nightjar, one of our lesser known birds

By José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

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This bizarre nocturnal birds with huge mouths, large moustaches and sorrowful eyes begin to return from their winter quarters in Africa towards middle of April, although most of them are coming back now in the first half of May.  Occasionally we come across one of them on passage in the marshes, like the european nightjar on the photos, a species that only come through us on its way to northern Spain and Europe.

european nightjar perched on a branch

European nightjar on passage through Doñana

Perched quietly on a branch of a tamarisk, it was completely motionless and perfectly camouflaged. During the day nightjars lie silent upon the ground, concealed by its plumage; they are always very hard to detect, looking like a bit of lichen-covered twig or a fragment of bark.

european nightjar perched on a branch

Close up of european nightjar

Males red-necked nightjars come back to us first to take possession of the best territories. When females arrive they court them with a repetitive mechanical call that sounds something like kyok-kyok-kyok…, which rises and falls as the bird turns its head from side to side. When it churrs, the bird lies or crouches along a branch or rail, but it will sing from a post. During courtship, and occasionally at other times, it uses a mechanical signal, a sharp cracking sound, caused by clapping the wings together over the back.

red-necked nightjar

Red-necked nightjar at night

Open sandy heaths with trees or bushes are the haunts of this crepuscular nightjar. It flies at dusk, most often at sundown, with an easy, silent moth-like flight; its strong and deliberate wingbeats alternate with graceful sweeps and wheels with motionless wings. Crepuscular insects, such as moths, are its food. No nest is made; the two elongated and elliptical eggs are placed upon the bare ground; the brooding bird, sitting closely, is their best protection. They can be often found feeding around street lamps in our villages or you can come across them while driving at night.

Our congratulations to the research group composed by scientists from Huelva University and the Doñana Biological Station that focus on these species. You can follow here their results.

About José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

José Antonio Sánchez se licenció en Biología por la Universidad de Sevilla en 1985. Más tarde, durante varios años, se dedicó a organizar y guiar rutas de senderismo y naturaleza ...