Rare nightjars thriving in Galloway

Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus, close up at the Lodge RSPB reserve, Sandy, Befordshire.
Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus, close up at the Lodge RSPB reserve, Sandy, Befordshire.

The nightjar, one of Scotland’s rarest and most unusual birds, appears to be thriving in Dumfries and Galloway, after good numbers were reported from surveys this summer.

Due to their largely nocturnal habits, nightjar populations are estimated by counting the number of males heard singing, or ‘churring’, after sunset. In 2016 a record number of 40 churring males were counted in Dumfries and Galloway, the highest number since survey work commenced there in the 1980s, and double that recorded in 2015.

Nightjars are on the northerly edge of their range in Scotland, where they prefer to breed in re-stocked forestry plantations or clear-felled sites. Their success has come about following dedicated work by Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) to create and maintain suitable habitat in traditional nightjar areas.

Nightjars only stay in the UK during the summer months, spending winters in central and southeastern Africa, and will already be on their way to warmer climes.

RSPB Scotland’s Chris Rollie, said: “Nightjars are really fascinating birds, yet most people have never seen one, and know very little about them. The UK population suffered historical declines due to habitat loss, and nightjars are now amber-listed birds of medium conservation concern.

“However, FES has worked for many years to support the local population in Galloway, and it looks like it’s really paying off with these great records coming in from our loyal band of volunteers in the local Nightjar Study Group. There are also signs that some modern forestry practices might benefit the species. Hopefully the upwards trend will continue into the future.”

Nightjars are crepuscular birds, which means they’re most active at dusk and dawn. They hunt moths, which they catch in their huge mouths, and have large eyes to help them see in poor light. Their cryptic, intricate plumage helps them stay hidden when they incubate or roost on the ground during the day, and their churring calls, which are very distinctive, can sound more like frogs or insects rather than birds.

Andrew Jarrott from Forest Enterprise Scotland, Galloway Forest District said: “A lot of careful thought goes into the design and management of our forests to create a wide range of habitats suitable for many species across Scotland. It is marvellous that nightjars appear to be responding, as it is a very special experience to hear them churring in the dusk of a late spring night. We hope their numbers continue to increase.”