Heathland birds

European Nightjar male feeding his young


In the UK the nightjar population is local and scattered, and these unusual birds are found in areas of heath and young woodland. The New Forest is a particular stronghold; nightjars are scarce in the rest of Hampshire.


Nightjars prefer open country with few scattered trees, such as heathland and young forestry plantations. In the New Forest they are widespread over such areas.

Nightjars are a wonderful and enigmatic bird and people will not forget seeing, or hearing, one. They are only active at night as they feed on moths and other insects caught on the wing. They also sing at night - an eerie but beautiful churring sound, given from a prominent perch in a tree on the heath. They have a silent floating flight, but the males will clap their wings together in a display to attract females. They are summer visitors (from Africa) and you will only see them between mid-May and August.

Being nocturnal, they rest during the day. They also nest on the ground and so are superbly camouflaged with mottled browns and greys that are almost impossible to see against the background of bracken, heather and gravels.

To see (or more like hear) nightjars, go out onto the open heaths such as Beaulieu Road Heath or the areas around Burley during the early evening in summer and wait to hear their churring song. (For safety please do not go alone and do take a torch.)  June and July are the best months.

ID tip –Nightjars are very hawk-like in flight with long, pointed wings and a long tail. Males have a white spot on each wing that can sometimes be seen, but the shape and song along with their nocturnal activity make them unmistakable.

Photo credit: Mike Read

  1. Heathland birds
  2. Nightjar (you are here)
  3. Woodlark
  4. Dartford warbler
  5. Hobby
  6. Stonechat
  7. Meadow and tree pipit


Ground nesting birds

Guides and leaflets to rare birds of the forest

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