Caprimulgidae – Nightjars & Nighthawks

Great Eared Nightjar Lyncornis macrotis ©Ken Behrens Website

The Caprimulgidae or nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular family characterised by long wings, short legs and very short bills. They are sometimes called goatsuckers, due to the ancient folk tale that they sucked the milk from goats (the Latin for goatsucker is Caprimulgus). Some New World species are called nighthawks, poorwills and etc.. Nightjars usually nest on the ground. The English word ‘nightjar’ originally referred to the European nightjar.

They are found around the world. They are mostly active in the late evening and early morning or at night, and feed predominantly on moths and other large flying insects.

Most have small feet, of little use for walking, and long pointed wings. Their soft plumage is cryptically coloured to resemble bark or leaves. Some species, unusual for birds, perch along a branch, rather than across it. This helps to conceal them during the day.

The Common Poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttallii, is unique as a bird that undergoes a form of hibernation, becoming torpid and with a much reduced body temperature for weeks or months, although other nightjars can enter a state of torpor for shorter periods.

Nightjars lay one or two patterned eggs directly onto bare ground. It has been suggested that nightjars will move their eggs and chicks from the nesting site in the event of danger by carrying them in their mouths. This suggestion has been repeated many times in ornithology books, but while this may accidentally happen, surveys of nightjar research have found very little evidence to support this idea.

Species List

According to the IOC there are 98 species of Poorwills, Nightjars & Nighthawks & allies currently recognised in the family Caprimulgidae; they are:

Spotted Nightjar Eurostopodus argus
White-throated Nightjar Eurostopodus mystacalis
Solomons Nightjar Eurostopodus nigripennis
New Caledonian Nightjar Eurostopodus exul
Satanic Nightjar Eurostopodus diabolicus
Papuan Nightjar Eurostopodus papuensis
Archbold’s Nightjar Eurostopodus archboldi

Malaysian Eared Nightjar Lyncornis temminckii
Great Eared Nightjar Lyncornis macrotis

Collared Nightjar Gactornis enarratus

Nacunda Nighthawk Chordeiles nacunda
Least Nighthawk Chordeiles pusillus
Sand-colored Nighthawk Chordeiles rupestris
Lesser Nighthawk Chordeiles acutipennis
Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor
Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii

Short-tailed Nighthawk Lurocalis semitorquatus
Rufous-bellied Nighthawk Lurocalis rufiventris

Band-tailed Nighthawk Nyctiprogne leucopyga
Plain-tailed Nighthawk Nyctiprogne vielliardi

Blackish Nightjar Nyctipolus nigrescens
Pygmy Nightjar Nyctipolus hirundinaceus

Pauraque Nyctidromus albicollis
Anthony’s Nightjar Nyctidromus anthonyi

Todd’s Nightjar Setopagis heterura
Little Nightjar Setopagis parvula
Roraiman Nightjar Setopagis whitelyi
Cayenne Nightjar Setopagis maculosa

Sickle-winged Nightjar Eleothreptus anomalus
White-winged Nightjar Eleothreptus candicans

Band-winged Nightjar Systellura longirostris
Tschudi’s Nightjar Systellura decussata

Swallow-tailed Nightjar Uropsalis segmentata
Lyre-tailed Nightjar Uropsalis lyra

White-tailed Nightjar Hydropsalis cayennensis
Spot-tailed Nightjar Hydropsalis maculicaudus
Ladder-tailed Nightjar Hydropsalis climacocerca
Scissor-tailed Nightjar Hydropsalis torquata

Long-trained Nightjar Macropsalis forcipata

Least Poorwill Siphonorhis brewsteri

Choco Poorwill Nyctiphrynus rosenbergi
Eared Poorwill Nyctiphrynus mcleodii
Yucatan Poorwill Nyctiphrynus yucatanicus
Ocellated Poorwill Nyctiphrynus ocellatus

Common Poorwill Phalaenoptilus nuttallii

Chuck-will’s-widow Antrostomus carolinensis
Rufous Nightjar Antrostomus rufus
Cuban Nightjar Antrostomus cubanensis
Hispaniolan Nightjar Antrostomus ekmani
Tawny-collared Nightjar Antrostomus salvini
Yucatan Nightjar Antrostomus badius
Silky-tailed Nightjar Antrostomus sericocaudatus
Buff-collared Nightjar Antrostomus ridgwayi
Eastern Whip-poor-will Antrostomus vociferus
Mexican Whip-poor-will Antrostomus arizonae
Puerto Rican Nightjar Antrostomus noctitherus
Dusky Nightjar Antrostomus saturatus

Brown Nightjar Veles binotatus

Red-necked Nightjar Caprimulgus ruficollis
Jungle Nightjar Caprimulgus indicus
Grey Nightjar Caprimulgus jotaka
Palau Nightjar Caprimulgus phalaena
European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus
Sombre Nightjar Caprimulgus fraenatus
Rufous-cheeked Nightjar Caprimulgus rufigena
Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius
Sykes’s Nightjar Caprimulgus mahrattensis
Vaurie’s Nightjar Caprimulgus centralasicus
Nubian Nightjar Caprimulgus nubicus
Golden Nightjar Caprimulgus eximius
Jerdon’s Nightjar Caprimulgus atripennis
Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus
Mees’s Nightjar Caprimulgus meesi
Andaman Nightjar Caprimulgus andamanicus
Philippine Nightjar Caprimulgus manillensis
Sulawesi Nightjar Caprimulgus celebensis
Donaldson Smith’s Nightjar Caprimulgus donaldsoni
Black-shouldered Nightjar Caprimulgus nigriscapularis
Fiery-necked Nightjar Caprimulgus pectoralis
Montane Nightjar Caprimulgus poliocephalus
Ruwenzori Nightjar Caprimulgus ruwenzorii
Indian Nightjar Caprimulgus asiaticus
Madagascan Nightjar Caprimulgus madagascariensis
Swamp Nightjar Caprimulgus natalensis
Nechisar Nightjar Caprimulgus solala
Plain Nightjar Caprimulgus inornatus
Star-spotted Nightjar Caprimulgus stellatus
Savanna Nightjar Caprimulgus affinis
Freckled Nightjar Caprimulgus tristigma
Bonaparte’s Nightjar Caprimulgus concretus
Salvadori’s Nightjar Caprimulgus pulchellus
Prigogine’s Nightjar Caprimulgus prigoginei
Bates’s Nightjar Caprimulgus batesi
Long-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus climacurus
Slender-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus clarus
Square-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus fossii
Standard-winged Nightjar Caprimulgus longipennis
Pennant-winged Nightjar Caprimulgus vexillarius

Species Links
  • Blackish Nightjar Caprimulgus nigrescens

    IUCN Species Status
  • Blackish Nightjar Caprimulgus nigrescens

    Cornell Species Account
    Blackish Nightjar is a relatively small dark nightjar, well named for its predominantly blackish plumage; this coloration provides good camouflage against this nightjar's preferred microhabitat of granite rock outcroppings in forest clearings and along trails.
  • Blackish Nightjar Caprimulgus nigrescens

    Species Account
    The blackish nightjar (Nyctipolus nigrescens) is a species of bird in the Caprimulgidae family. This relatively small dark nightjar is found in the Guianas and the Amazon. It is rare or even absent in the western part, but is among the commonest nightjars in the eastern Amazon and the Guianas.
  • Blackish Nightjar Nyctipolus nigrescens

    BirdLife Species Account
    Full species account…
  • Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor

    IUCN Species Status
  • Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor

    Species Account
    The common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is a medium-sized [3][4] crepuscular or nocturnal bird[3][5] within the nightjar family, whose presence and identity are best revealed by its vocalization.
  • Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor

    Cornell Species Account
    Although arguably the most studied nightjar in North America and one of the best known in the world, the Common Nighthawk remains poorly understood.
  • Common Pauraque Nyctidromus albicollis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Common Pauraque Nyctidromus albicollis

    Species Account
    The pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis) – also called the common pauraque to distinguish it from similar species – is a nightjar species, one of two birds in the genus Nyctidromus.
  • Common Pauraque Nyctidromus albicollis

    Cornell Species Account
    The Common Pauraque is a distinctive nightjar of open woodland and scrub, including around human habitation.
  • Common Poorwill Phalaenoptilus nuttallii

    Cornell Species Account
    The Common Poorwill, noted for its distinctive call and its ability to enter a state of deep daily torpor under natural and laboratory conditions, is the only bird known to spend long periods during winter completely inactive.
  • Common Poorwill Phalaenoptilus nuttallii

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Common Poorwill Phalaenoptilus nuttallii

    Species Account
    The common poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) is a nocturnal bird of the family Caprimulgidae, the nightjars. It is found from British Columbia and southeastern Alberta, through the western United States to northern Mexico. The bird's habitat is dry, open areas with grasses or shrubs, and even stony desert slopes with very little vegetation.
  • Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius

    IUCN Species Status
  • Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius

    Species Account
    The Egyptian nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius) is a medium-small nightjar which occurs in south west Asia and north Africa and winters in tropical Africa.
  • Jungle Nightjar Caprimulgus indicus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Jungle Nightjar Caprimulgus indicus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Jungle Nightjar Caprimulgus indicus

    Species Account
    The jungle nightjar (Caprimulgus indicus) is a species of nightjar found in India and Sri Lanka. It is found mainly on the edge of forests where it is seen or heard at dusk. The taxonomy of this and related nightjars is complex and a range of treatments have been followed that cover this and several other nightjars in the Asian region. It was formerly called the grey nightjar or Indian jungle nightjar and sometimes included the East Asian grey nightjar (C. jotaka) as a subspecies.
  • White-winged Nightjar Caprimulgus candicans

    IUCN Species Status
  • White-winged Nightjar Caprimulgus candicans

    Species Account
    The white-winged nightjar (Eleothreptus candicans) is a species of nightjar in the Caprimulgidae family native to Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay, where it lives in open grassland with scattered trees.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 98

Useful Reading
  • Nightjars & their Allies

    | By David T Holyoak | OUP | 2001 | Hardback | 773 pages, 24 colourplates, b/w illustrations, tabs, maps | ISBN: 9780198549871 Buy this book from
  • Nightjars - A Guide to Nightjars, Nighthawks, and Their Relatives

    | By Nigel Cleere & Dave Nurney | Pica Press | 1998 | Hardback | 317 pages, 36 colour plates, illustrations, maps | ISBN: 9781873403488 Buy this book from
  • Nightjars of the World - Potoos, Frogmouths, Oilbird and Owlet-nightjars

    | By Nigel Cleere | WILDGuides | 2010 | Hardback | 464 pages, colour photos | ISBN: 9781903657072 Buy this book from
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