European Nightjar Bird (Caprimulgus europaeus)

European nightjar

The European nightjar bird, also known as Caprimulgus europaeus, common goatsucker, Eurasian nightjar, or just nightjar bird, is a medium-sized nocturnal bird species that belongs to the nightjar family, Caprimulgidae.

It can be found in most of Europe and also in North Africa and some parts of western Asia. The males have striking black and white plumage on their heads, and the females usually have brownish coloration with reddish wings and tail tips. Their diet consists mainly of large insects such as moths, caterpillars, flies, grasshoppers, beetles, and earwigs.

The genus name comes from Latin and means grasshopper catcher from capra, goat, and mulgere, to milk. The specific europaeus is from Latin and means of Europe. It breeds in much of temperate Europe and Asia and migrates south to winter in Africa. It has also been recorded as a vagrant in northern North America.


European nightjar

The European nightjar bird, also known as the common goatsucker or Eurasian nightjar, is a species of nocturnal insectivorous bird found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It gets its name from its hollow-sounding call which sounds like a goat’s shrill cry.

They live near grassy pastures or old deciduous woods and feed on insects during the twilight hours before sunrise. Nightjars fly with their long wings silently closed for greater maneuverability. Their legs are short and strong for perching on branches and hopping about on the ground.

They have large eyes that give them good all-round vision when hunting at night; they are sensitive to light but can still see fairly well even if it is cloudy. There is often one brooding parent who covers up the nestlings while the other takes flight to find food.

There are usually two eggs laid per clutch, white or cream colored with blackish spots around the larger end. The common goatsucker has pale buff underparts with brown streaks and dark wing feathers that contrast sharply against its white underside.

Black Crowned Night Heron Bird (Nycticorax nycticorax)

European nightjar scientific name

The scientific name of the European nightjar bird is Caprimulgus europaeus

Range and habitat

Although the European nightjar bird is a small bird, it has an impressive range and habitat. The Eurasian nightjar breeds in Africa and parts of Europe, central Asia, southern Russia, and some of China. In winter it migrates to sub-Saharan Africa and western India.

It prefers open landscapes with grasses or scrubs as well as coastal areas. They are found at elevations up to 9,800 feet. They are most active from dusk until dawn.

European nightjar bird size and weight

The European nightjar is a very small species of nightjar with an average length of 9.6 to 11 inches (24.5 to 28 cm). The weight of this bird ranges from about 51 to 101 grams, with a wingspan of around 20 to 23 inches (52 to 59 cm), making it one of the lightest flying birds in the world.

Feathers and plumage

European nightjar

While most of the bird’s plumage is dark brown, its forehead and chin are dark gray. The face also has black feathers around the eye with a white stripe running from its throat to the nape of its neck.

It is mainly nocturnal but can be seen during dawn and dusk. During this time, it often feeds on insects like beetles and flies. This species is common throughout Western Europe.


In the spring, these birds start to grow new feathers in order to be prepared for their long migration. The molting process starts with a process called pre-plumage. A pre-plumage is made up of three parts: the incomplete or larval plumage, the growing or post-juvenile plumage, and the final adult plumage.

All three molts are meant to ensure that there is enough time to produce a suitable plumage for their new life cycle. European nightjars go through all three stages, but they do not replace the complete old plumage with a new one as most other birds do.

Short Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

The nightjars continue to keep their old feathers until they are fully grown and then shed them after pre-plumage. It takes about five months for an individual bird to have its full set of feathers again; this means that these nightjars spend about half of the year without any flight capabilities!

Nesting behavior

The European nightjar bird is a nocturnal bird that feeds on moths, insects, and occasionally some small birds. They will spend the day in open fields or near the margins of woodlands during the daytime and then feed at nightfall. Nesting sites are selected by male European nightjars and the nests are dug on the ground out of grass roots and leaves.

Diet and foraging

The European nightjar can eat most small animals but prefer earthworms, beetles, caterpillars, and moths. The typical foraging habitat of the nightjar is farmland or other grasslands in an open setting. European nightjars roost on the ground during the day and at dusk, they emerge to feed on invertebrates, mainly by walking and jumping rather than flying.

Sounds and vocal behavior

The song of the European nightjar is usually heard only during the breeding season. They are nocturnal birds so it’s rare to see them during daylight hours. Their call can be described as a skreeeeeeeee, and they will also make contact calls of chirrup. When disturbed or flushed, they will emit a high-pitched hiss that sounds like siiiii


European nightjar

The European nightjar bird breeds between May and September, with one male mating with one female for one year. It is not uncommon for a pair to raise more than one brood. However, sometimes pairs split, and the female is able to raise a brood fathered by a different male. It has been reported that an extra male has occasionally assisted a male-female pair with rearing young.

During spring and summer, European nightjar birds breed in pairs. Generally, one male and one female raise a brood of chicks, although a second male may be recruited to help raise a pair’s young, or a pair of females may lay their eggs together.

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)

A female European nightjar bird may lay between 2 and 4 smooth, elliptical eggs in a shallow scrape on the ground. They can be irregularly marked or blotched and weigh between 7 and 9.9 grams.

Females incubate the eggs for 17 to 18 days while male takes occasional breaks. The female will go feed while her mate takes care of the eggs during dawn and dusk.

After hatching asynchronously, the semi-altricial young fledge after 16 to 17 days. They become independent after about 16 more days. In favorable conditions, female European nightjars sometimes leave their first brood to raise their second brood when they are about 14 days old. By the time a female has reached maturity (about 1 year), she is ready to breed.

Both parents supply food for the young. The female European nightjar bird is usually the primary incubator, although the male may care for the first young alone for a time if the female decides to produce a second brood.

As opposed to some other birds, baby European nightjar birds have their eyes open at birth, but must still be fed by their mother. At about 19 days old, the young can venture with their father to search for food. he’ll typically feed his chicks on the ground or at the nest.


Even though European nightjars breed at one year of age, they live for four years on average. Their annual survival rate is 70%, but for juvenile birds, it is unknown. There is a maximum known age of just over 12 years in the wild.

Movements and migration

The European nightjar is an elusive bird, rarely spotted during the day. Like many nocturnal birds, they are most active at night. These birds live in woodlands or forested areas with a tree canopy. They often perch on the lower branches of trees where they will go foraging for insects such as beetles and ants to feed their young.

Green Heron Bird (Butorides virescens)

Most nightjars migrate for the winter. Caprimulgus migrate from Southern Europe to Africa, which is a journey of about 2,500 miles. They travel by day as well as night, even in high winds and rainstorms. Birds also use areas around the Mediterranean Sea to rest and refuel before continuing their migration journey north.

Diseases and threats

Despite the European nightjar bird’s sporadic presence in North America, it faces several threats to its survival. The grasslands it relies on for sustenance are disappearing, and some potential predators, like feral cats and rats, are becoming more common.

On top of this, the nighttime environment that allows these birds to thrive is being disrupted by artificial light from city lights.

Thankfully, both of these factors can be reversed by implementing policies that maintain or restore native habitats and provide adequate lighting for human settlements.
It is also important to eliminate or control invasive species that prey on this species’ eggs and young as well as spread disease.

Population status

Around 3 to 6 million European nightjar birds were estimated globally in 2020, and at least, 290,000 to 830,000 were European population.

Conservation and management

Woodland management such as natural regeneration, coppicing and woodland burning have helped this species thrive. The introduction of red kites to England has aided the nightjars too as they prey on rodents that are pests to the birds’ eggs and chicks. As a result, nightjars in parts of the UK now nest at densities comparable with those found in Europe.