Nighthawks and nightjars caprimulgidae

Chuck-will's-widow's mouth- Sea Biscuit Wildlife Shelter Nightjars (caprimulgidae family) - in some areas also known as nighthawks - are small to large nocturnal birds that are found around the world, except for the polar regions.

They are sometimes referred to as goatsuckers, as they were often seen in fields together with goats and sheep, and the myth was born that they were there to

suck milk from the teats of goats

At night, they  hunt flying insects in more open landscapes, such as forest clearings, wetlands and along rivers.


They have a variegated plumage is cryptically colored to resemble bark or leaves, which serves well to conceal them on the forest floors.

They have large eyes, large mouths yet very short bills, long wings and tail, and short legs. Their pointed wings and long tails gives them an overall body shape that is similar to that of a kestrel or cuckoo.

Their feet are weak and their legs short - and they usually hop about awkwardly on the ground.

Some species, unusually for birds, perch along a branch, rather than across it. This also helps to conceal them during the day.

These birds are mostly active in the late evening and early morning or at night.

Nighjars have special physical adaptations that facilitate foraging at night and catching prey in mid-air, for example:

  • The beak has evolved to be much wider than it is long, and it opens wide both - vertically as well as horizontally. The resulting big gaping mouth allows it to more easily scoop up insects in flight.
  • Its large eyes are placed on each side of the head (laterally) - which significantly increases its visual field.
  • A reflective membrane behind the retina (tapetum) enhances its vision at night by augmenting the light-gathering ability of its eyes.
  • They also have forward-facing whiskers that may either help them funnel food into the mouth or protect the eyes.

Avianweb Species Page