In the spring, nightjars arrive to Britain from Africa with the purpose of breeding, the males attracting their mate by clapping their wings and undertaking frenzied flights. They are a rare sight, nesting on the ground during the day making them hard to spot but walking at dusk you may be lucky to view the nightjar silhouetted against the open night sky, revealing their long wings and pointed tail, when their silent flight and wide, open mouth captures moths and beetles on the wing.
The female, which is fertile by one year of age, does not build a nest but lays a maximum of two broods, each containing two eggs, on the ground. The chicks fledge within three weeks of hatching and have a typical lifespan of four years. By early September nightjar leaves Britain’s shores for the long return flight to Africa.
The elusiveness of the nightjar has caused it to become subject to many myths and legends, one of which believed its’ eerie churring call to belong to witches hiding in bushes.
Specifically in southern England, Suffolk, parts of Wales and south-west Scotland, the nightjar can be found on open woodland, heathland and moorland but also dunes (specifically our site at Studland bay in Dorset) as these provide the ground conditions in which nightjars lay their eggs.
The nightjar is an unusual looking bird with a flat head, large eyes and a small but wide beak. Its mottled colouring in brown and grey provides camouflage although the males have flashes of white plumage which they display to other nightjars. It often is around 27cm in length with a wingspan of 60cm and weighs approximately 83 grams.
Dynamic Dunescapes are working to conserve dune habitats and heathland on dunes, preserving the nightjar’s nesting sites.