Photographing The Nocturnal Nightjar

Here are some hints and tips for finding and photographing the Nightjar, from Eschenbach.

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Nightjar

They look a bit spooky with their oddly shaped eyes. The Romans even suspected them to suck milk from goats hence their latin name “caprimulgus” which means “goatsucker”. Read on to learn more about this mysterious bird.

 

Appearance

Nightjars are nocturnal and crepuscular birds. They get their name from their discordant cry but they owe their nickname “goatsuckers” to the Roman scholar and naturalist Pliny the Elder. The later wrote that they would suck the milk from goat at night and poison them, probably because nightjars often hunt insects near cattle. Nightjars’ bad reputation is not so surprising when you take a look at them: a broad head, slit-shaped deep black eyes, a broad beak fringed with bristles and a cryptically coloured plumage looking like tree bark. Thanks to their plumage, they can be extremely hard to spot when sitting on the ground or perched on a branch.

 

Incidence

The European nightjar and the Red-necked nightjar are the only member of the family found in Europe. They can be found all over Europe except in the far north. The nightjar prefers warm-dry, open landscapes, preferably moors and heaths, but also pine forests with large open spaces. Nightjars are migratory birds and spend winter in Africa. The population has been on the decline since the end of World War II, mainly because of the loss of insect prey due to pesticide use and habitat destruction. Although they are globally classified as least concern by the IUCN they are red-listed as a cause of concern in the UK and close to extinction in Ireland.

 

Bird Watching Tips

The nightjar is active at twilight and at night and spends the day resting on the ground or in trees. In case of disturbances, it first stays still and relies on its camouflage unless the troublemaker gets too close, in that case it simply flies away. Bird watchers should therefore make sure that they do not accidentally step on the well camouflaged bird.

One can easily identify the nightjar by its unusual singing: its song reminds of a distant engine noise and is often played for hours without interruption. After dusk, you can watch the nightjar hunting. Although the flight of the nightjar often reminds of a butterfly, it moves surprisingly purposefully while hunting and captures insects during demanding flight manoeuvres. It opens its beak like a net just before reaching its prey. Who needs goat's milk when you're that good at hunting?

 

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