The Nightjar

Martin Bennett lives in our Parish and is a keen ornithologist as well as a highly accomplished photographer. He writes here about a very special bird that can be found  locally, we are privileged to have them here. Martin writes with passion about the potential threats to their successful breeding.


The European Nightjar is one of the bird species that frequent the New Forest heathland, primarily Ibsley Common and Rockford Common in our parish.

The Nightjar is a crepuscular and nocturnal bird, feeding mostly on flying beetles (i.e. cockchafers) moths and insects.

Male Nightjars arrive from Africa mainly in late April/early May with the females arriving mid/late May, within a short duration of time they get straight down to breeding. No nest is made, two eggs are laid, normally on a  patch of bare ground in amongst mature heathe.

Whilst the female is incubating the eggs in the daytime,the male rests up normally on a branch close to the nest. Incubation period of eggs is roughly 2 weeks, followed by 4 weeks rearing their young.

If a  pair raise a second brood, they will still be on the ground rearing their chicks throughout August, hence dogs being walked on heathland should be kept under strict control until the end of August, and not end of July, as it is at present

mjb_4065-nocrop

Most Nightjar have left our shores by early to mid September to make their return journey back to the South Africa region, a journey of almost 6,000 miles, so a return trip of 12,000 miles to lay 2 eggs, or 4 eggs if they second brood.

What cannot be emphasised too strongly, Nightjar will desert their nest with the slightest disturbance, especially during early incubation. Unfortunately, despite all the signage that is displayed in sensitive areas, asking dog walkers not to allow their dogs to stray from the tracks, or keep their dogs on leads, a large minority of dog owners think this instruction is not applicable to them and allow their dogs to run wherever they so wish.  It is an offence to disturb ground nesting heathland birds, especially two of the heathland species,the Woodlark and the Dartford Warbler that are Schedule One protected. Any disturbance caused to any Schedule One species carries a fine up to £5,000. Livestock are also a problem to ground nesting birds, and although a certain amount of livestock is necessary, too much livestock can have a very negative affect on all aspects of flora and fauna.

It is so tragic that a bird species that flies a round trip of 12,000 miles to breed here can have its nest destroyed in a matter of seconds. With a little bit of consideration this disturbance could be greatly reduced.