Devon Biodiversity Action Plan

Plants and Animals

Special to Devon!

The location of Devon.

Caprimulgus europaeus

Nightjar, Caprimulgus europaeus. Image courtesy of the RSPB
Image courtesy of RSPB

Nightjars have a National Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) devoted to them,
as well as a local Species Action Plan within the Devon BAP. (More on Devon BAP here)


Nightjars are summer visitors to Britain, usually arriving in April or May. They nest and raise their young here before returning to Africa to avoid the cold winter. By October, they have all left once more.

Nightjars are ground-nesting birds. This makes them very vulnerable to predators. However, they have plumage with a bark-like pattern which offers perfect camouflage. It is entirely possible to walk right past a bird sitting on its nest without seeing it, they are so wonderfully concealed. If they are startled, they open their beak into a wide gape and spread their wings and tail, to try and frighten off intruders.

wpe1A.jpg (9562 bytes) They nest on heathlands, rough commons, open pine woods or newly replanted forests (left).

The habitat must include bare patches of ground to provide nesting sites.

The number of Nightjars breeding in Britain fell quite dramatically over the last century. This was linked to the loss of areas of heathland which is their main breeding habitat.

Heathland once covered vast tracts of land in southern Britain. For varying reasons much of this heathland has disappeared. However, because the value of this habitat for all sorts of wildlife has now been recognized, concerted efforts are being made to restore and maintain areas of heathland. As a result, Nightjar numbers are slowly recovering.

wpe1B.jpg (18954 bytes) Nightjars have never been observed at the Woodland Education Centre in Offwell, although suitable habitat is available. The regenerating heathland being restored at the Centre (left) would provide an ideal breeding habitat for Nightjars.

Nevertheless, they do occur in the areas surrounding Offwell and it is quite likely that as their numbers increase they will colonize this area of the Centre in future.

Devon has the second largest population of Nightjars in South West England. It is therefore very important that their numbers should be maintained. To help achieve this, there is an Individual Species Action Plan devoted to them within the overall Devon Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). Heathlands also have their own Habitat Action Plan within the Devon BAP. Clearly, there would not be much point in trying to promote Nightjars, without also promoting their preferred habitat.  (More on Devon BAP here)

Nightjars are nocturnal, being extremely active at dusk and dawn. They feed on the wing, darting and circling with aerobatic skill as they catch insects in flight. They feed mainly on moths and beetles. The wide gaping mouth helps to catch the insects.

They have an odd churring type of song, a bit like that of a cricket, This can be most frequently heard on warm summer evenings.



Listen to a Nightjar churring


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