Volunteer nightjar surveying

 In Nature & wildlife, Volunteering

As nightjars are nocturnal, unpleasant though it is, pre-dawn is the best time to see and hear these charismatic birds and this is what our volunteers are looking and listening out for. Male nightjars make a distinctive churring call which can easily be picked out on still nights. They can be seen hawking for invertebrates, such as moths, flies and beetles, with an amazing swooping flight pattern in the twilight.



Nightjars are long distance migrants, arriving in the UK from Africa in April or May and staying here until August or September, only leaving once they have hopefully laid and raised their chicks. They are roughly the size and shape of a kestrel or cuckoo but have amazingly patterned, dark plumage which helps them to blend into the undergrowth, looking just like a fallen log! This camouflage is invaluable during the daytime when they sit on their nests on the heathland floor – making them almost impossible to see during the day. Having their nests on the floor does make them very vulnerable to disturbance, especially from dogs. This species is a good example of why it is a legal requirement to keep your dogs on a lead on open access land from 1 March to 31 July to avoid disturbing ground-nesting birds.

Their preferred habitat is heathland, moorland, open woodland, or conifer forest; habitat which is commonplace in the Blackdown Hills. The distribution of nightjars in the Blackdown Hills AONB is relatively unknown but with so much suitable habitat, we are keen to find out more. That’s why we have enlisted the help of our survey volunteers to shed some light on population numbers. We are working in partnership with British Trust for Ornithology, Somerset Ornithology Society and Forestry England so that the data gathered can go towards long-term data sets and help us to manage these habitats in the Blackdown Hills.

We undertake nightjar surveying with volunteers on the Blackdown Hills annually, so if you would like to know more for next year, get in touch by emailing blackdownhills@devon.gov.uk

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