Caprimulgus europaeus (European nightjar) 

Europese naguil [Afrikaans]; Udebeza [Xhosa]; uZavolo (also applied to Fiery-necked nightjar) [Zulu]; Rumbamba (generic term for nightjar) [Kwangali]; Semanama (generic term for nightjars) [South Sotho]; Datiwa (generic name for nightjar) [Shona]; Mahulwana, Ribyatsane, Riwuvawuva (generic terms for nighjar) [Tsonga]; Leubauba, Mmapheke, Tshogwi (all 3 are generic terms for nightjar) [Tswana]; Nachtzwaluw [Dutch]; Engoulevent d'Europe [French]; Ziegenmelker, Nachtschwalbe [German]; Noitibó da Europa [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Strigiformes > Family: Caprimulgidae

Caprimulgus europaeus (European nightjar) 

European nightjar, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

The European nightjar is a Palearctic breeding migrant, with its non-breeding grounds mainly in West and East Africa, but also to a lesser extent in southern Africa. It arrives in our region around September-October, after a long and difficult flight from Eurasia. It occurs in spaced out populations across southern Africa, generally preferring woodland and savanna. It exclusively eats flying insects, especially beetles, doing most of its foraging at dusk and a few hours before sunrise. It stays here for about a half a year, most of the birds have left by the end of April.

Distribution and habitat

Breeds in Eurasia, heading south in the non-breeding season to West Africa, as well as the area from Ethiopia south to Zambia and southern Africa. Within southern Africa it is generally uncommon, occurring in patches across the region. It generally prefers savanna and woodland, especially miombo (Brachystegia), mopane (Colosphermum mopane) and Acacia woodland, but it can also be found in gardens and parks. Unlike most other nightjars, it roosts lengthways on tree branches in the day (see image above).

Distribution of European nightjar in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Palearctic breeding migrant, arriving in southern Africa around September-October, after a long and difficult flight from Eurasia. It stays in the region until about April.

Food 

It almost exclusively eats flying insects, especially beetles, doing most of its foraging at dusk and a few hours before sunrise. It usually hunts from a perch overlooking an open area, such as a cultivated field, occasionally launching into the air to catch an insect before returning to its perch. It is extremely fast and agile in flight, sometimes hawking insects attracted to electric lights in urban areas. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

Threats

Globally not threatened, however its population in Europe has been decreasing recently, probably due to habitat loss, human disturbance and lack of insects to eat because of pesticides. Also, thousands of them are shot down as migrating flocks fly over the Mediterranean Sea.

 

 

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