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Not uncommon on Dorset heaths only active at dusk and difficult to photograph

Photograph by: 
Mark Wright

Dorset is something of a stronghold for the nightjar. Whilst they breed across all of the southern counties of England, parts of Wales and then also on the moors of northern England and southern Scotland it is the Dorset heathlands that seem to suit them best. They are summer visitors to breed here and they are something of a mysterious bird and not much seems to be known about their migration and where they overwinter but it some apparently get right down to southern Africa. That air of mystery surrounds them here too as they fly at dusk in erie light emitting their wonderfully unique churring 'song'; they are difficult to see by day as they are so well camouflaged and remain quite inactive unless disturbed.

The first nightjar reports seem to start in week 17 in late April but it is week 19 in early May when they are reported more frequently. There are then a good number of reports each week until week 26 at the end of June but then they become harder to find as the singing season comes to an end. By week 28 in the middle of July reports become very scarce but they do continue until week 37 in September with most of the reports from the latter months being of passage migrants on their way south.

There are records from fifty sites in Dorset and most of these will be of encounters with breeding birds and the distribution maps shows that the heaths of eastern Dorset and Purbeck are the key breeding sites. There are also reports from further west along the Fleet and the coast line on towards Lyme Regis and these will, in general, be of passage birds. A couple of inland woodland sites seem to have breeding nightjars too.

By far the best way to see nightjars and  to add them to your Dorset list is to go on one of the special evening walks at Arne arranged specifically to see nightjar; they never fail!   



Common Name Nightjar
Scientific Name Caprimulgus europaeus
Species Group Other larger land birds
Status Local
Interest Level
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
Look for

Constant drilling noise on heathland at dusk

Identification Notes
  • Nationally uncommon but still to be found on the Dorset heaths
  • A crepuscular species, atctive at dusk but not during the day
  • The 'song' is like a constant electric drill, unmistakable 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Other larger land birds