Sunday, December 7, 2014

European Nightjar

The European nightjar is a regular spring and autumn migrant but do not expect to see it unless you look for it between dusk at dawn when nightjars are usually active. 

During the day nightjars rest on the ground, usually in a shaded area underneath a bush, or along the branch of a tree. It breeds throughout most of Europe and temperate Asia and spends the winter months in Africa south of the Sahara.

The European nightjar is one of several species of nightjar most of which are found in tropical areas. Nightjars feed on moths and other night-flying insects which they locate visually. They have large eyes which have a reflecting surface. This helps them to see in poor light conditions. They also have a very large mouth which is surrounded by large bristles which form a net around it.

Nightjars are very well camouflaged and when resting they are very difficult to spot. They are very confident of their camouflage and will not fly away unless they are approached very closely. When it feels threatened it suddenly flies away. It flies close to the ground for a few metres and lands in a suitable place to rest again.  

In Maltese the nightjar is known as buqrajq

Its scientific name Caprimulugus is derived from the Latin capra, "goat", and mulgere, "to milk", which refers to an old belief that this bird suckled goats causing them to stop producing milk or to become blind. This myth was already old in Aristotle’s time. This ancient belief is reflected in other European names such as the Italian succiacapri. It is probable that the myth originated because nightjars were seen to fly around places where animals were being kept as they were attracted to these places because of the higher concentration of insects.

There are about eighty species of nightjars worldwide. Most are found in warmer areas because usually have a larger number of insects.

In Malta two other very rare species of nightjar, the Egyptian nightjar (buqrajq abjad) and the red-necked nightjar (buqrajq aħmar) have been recorded. 

This Article was published in The Times of Malta on 22 May 2014.

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