Bird song (45) – Nightjar

Nightjar. Photo: Tim Melling

I think of Nightjars as being birds of southern England but they are actually quite widely found in the UK including parts of Wales, northern England and southern Scotland. But I first heard them on the Somerset Levels in my youth and my strongest memories of them are on heathlands in Dorset, Hampshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Their song is a prolonged churrrrring. There’s nothing quite like it – it sounds almost mechanical. It is most often heard as light ebbs away and is delivered by a sitting bird – if it turns its head then the volume will increase or decrease depending on where you are in relation to the bird.

There’s not a lot of variation, but here’s a bird from the Netherlands;

… and one from Poland;

…and another from the UK:

Churrrrrring. Easy to identify but not so easy to be in the right place to hear it.


6 Replies to “Bird song (45) – Nightjar”

  1. Mark,

    I’m sure that you are aware that you wouldn’t hear them on the Somerset Levels now. The Nightjars, Nightingales and Partridges have been replaced by Bitterns, various Egret species and Marsh Harriers.

    There is a tale, possibly apocryphal, that when the Nightjars has almost gone that two birders played their tape and were thrilled to get a response….until they discovered two other birders a few hundred yards away also with a tape machine.

  2. We have a welcome return of breeding birds after many years absence.
    The first pair, with young, were found on short Heather re-growth after burning, but most are now on recent ( 8 years or less) clearfell sites.
    It is a privilege to have a male alight on a tree above you and begin its song, they seem to show a definite interest in the dogs, at least for a short while, and i have seen one divert in flight to see off a roding Woodcock, possibly in mistake for a hawk.
    They are something to look forward to in a month or so, as the nights draw out and become warmer.

  3. Westleton Heath, May, 21:45.
    Trousers tucked into socks, to keep the ticks out.
    Permanent fag on, to keep the midges off.
    One of the best birds in the world churring 15 yards away.
    (almost) Better than sex.

    1. Come on Coop, they may be good (and they certainly are) but they are not that good.

  4. ‘Churrrrrring. Easy to identify’


    Though it’s not unknown for people to mistake a distant grasshopper warbler for the real thing.

    They seem to be bucking the trend by gradually moving north and reestablishing their range across the UK, possibly because so much forestry is being felled, opening up suitable habitat.

    I suspect they are more widespread than people realise but go undetected because there are so few people around in the remote places they frequent during the hours they are active.

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