The Egyptian Nightjars
The Egyptian Nightjars (Caprimulgus aegyptius) are medium-small nightjars found in south west Asia, North Africa, and tropical Africa.
Like other nightjars, they fly at dusk, most often at sundown, with a silent moth-like flight.
These nightjars, as suggested by the name, are strictly nocturnal. Throughout the day, they typically rest quietly in densely vegetated hiding places. At night, they become active as they hunt flying insects in more open landscapes.
Their cryptic appearance blends perfectly into their habitat and they are very difficult to spot during the daytime, when they are usually hidden away sleeping. They are most easily detected at night when light is reflected ruby-red from their eyes, as they are sitting on tracks or roads. However, their presence is most often made known by their loud calls given at dusk.
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 (the Latin word for goat-sucker or goat-milker is Caprimulgus). However, instead they fed on the insects that were attracted to livestock. In the past, night-flying birds – such as the nightjars – were suspected of witchery.
Alternate (Global) Names
Arabic: ????? ??????, ???????? ?????? … Chinese: ???? … Czech: Lelek egyptský, lelek sv?tlý … Danish: Ørkennatravn … Dutch: Agyptische nachtzwaluw, Egyptische Nachtzwaluw … Finnish: Aavikkokehrääjä … French: Engoulevent d’Égypte, Engoulevent du désert, Engoulevent du Sahara … German: Aegyptischer Ziegenmelker, Pharaonen Nachtschwalbe, Pharaonen Ziegenmelker, Pharaonennachtschwalbe, Pharaonenziegenmelker … Hebrew: ???? ???? … Hungarian: Egyiptomi lappantyú ,.. Icelandic: Niðfari … Italian: Succiacapre isabellino … Japanese: ejiputoyotaka … strong>Kazakh: ????? ????????? … Norwegian: Egyptnattravn, Ørkennattravn … Polish: Lelek, lelek egipski … Portuguese: Noitibó-egípcio … Russian: Bulany Kozodoy, ???????? ???????, ??????? ???????, ??????? ??????? … Slovak: lelek žltkavý … Slovenian: egip?anska podhujka … Spanish: Chotacabra Egipcia, Chotacabras egipcio, Chotacabras Sahariano … Swedish: Ökennattskärra … Turkish: çöl çobanaldatan?, M?s?r Çobanaldatan
Distribution / Habitat
The Egyptian Nightjars occur in Europe, North Africa and southwest Asia. They are late migrants, seldom appearing before the end of April or beginning of May in their breeding range.
They breed in most of North Africa, the Middle East (extreme western Pakistan and south eastern Iran); and south-western Asia.
They spend the winter months in the warmer (tropical) regions of North Africa (eastern Sahel).
They are native to the following countries:
Afghanistan; Algeria; Bahrain; Chad; Egypt; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Israel; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kuwait; Libyan Arab Jamahiriya; Mali; Mauritania; Morocco; Nigeria; Oman; Pakistan; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Sudan; Tajikistan; Tunisia; Turkmenistan; United Arab Emirates; Uzbekistan; Yemen
They are vagrants (visitors) to:
China; Denmark; Eritrea; Germany; Great Britain, Italy; Malta; Niger; Somalia; Sweden; Syrian Arab Republic; Togo; United Kingdom; possibly Western Sahara
The Egyptian Nightjar is a desert species that occurs in open deserts with some trees and bushes; but may also occur in shrubland and grassland.
Their cryptic appearance blends perfectly into their habitat and they are very difficult to spot during the daytime, when they are usually hidden away sleeping. They are most easily detected at night when light is reflected ruby-red from their eyes. However, their presence is most often made known by their loud calls given at dusk.
Recognized Subspecies and Ranges:
- Caprimulgus aegyptius aegyptius (Lichtenstein, 1823) – Nominate Race
- Range: Northeastern Egypt and northern Arabian Peninsula, east to extreme central western China and north eastern Kazakhstan, Tadjikista in Central Asia.
- Caprimulgus aegyptius saharae (Erlanger, 1899)
- Range: Central and east-central Morocco, northern (and occasionally southern) Algeria, central Tunisia, probably northwestern Libya, and possibly east towards northern Egypt. Winter in western Sahel in North Africa.
The Egyptian Nightjars averages 10 inches (~ 25 cm) in length and has a wing span of about 22 – 25 inches (~55 – 63 cm). Like other nightjars, this species has a wide gaping mouth, long wings and a soft downy plumage.
Its brown-mottled plumage is camouflaging sand-colored with buff and brown bars and streaks that blends in well with its sandy environment. The under parts are sandy or whitish.
The male can be identified by his tiny white wing spots.
The Egyptian Nightjar is smaller, but relatively longer-winged and longer-tailed than the more widespread nightjar species.
Its variegated plumage is much paler than the European Nightjar.
Calls / Vocalization
The Egyptian Nightjar is mostly silent. Its call is a repetitive mechanical kroo-kroo-kroo, which rises and falls as this bird turns its head from side to side.
Reproduction / Nesting
The Egyptian Nightjar’s breeding season is usually timed to take advantage of an abundant supply of insects – often around the end of the wet season.
The male establishes his territory and sings at night to keep rivals away and at the same time to attract a female.
Nightjars don’t actually construct a nest, as most other bird species do. They simply place the eggs on the ground on open soil.
Nesting appears to be timed in such a way that the moon is more than half full at the time they are feeding their young – likely as the additional light during the night facilitates caring for the young and foraging for food.
The female may lay one to two eggs (mostly two) that are whitish or creamy in color, with brown and grey spots or blotches.
During the day, the incubation of the eggs is undertaken by the female, while both parents share the incubation at night. The incubation period is about 19 to 21 days.
The hatchlings are covered in down and are capable of short-distance movements within 24 hours of hatching. They usually move apart shortly after hatching, maybe to make it more difficult for predators to spot them. The parents also shove them apart with their feet as they flush from the nest. The male usually stands guard and defends the nest and the young.
Both parents feed the young regurgitated food (insects), and they continue to brood them until fledging. The young take their first flight when they are about 20 to 21 days old.
If conditions are favorable, the female may lay a second clutch close to the first and while she is incubating the new set of eggs, the male continues to care for the young from first brood.
They have developed several behavioral adaptations to minimize predation:
- Their nocturnal (night) lifestyle reduces the likelihood of being detected by daytime predators. During the daytime, they typically sleep on the ground where they are perfectly camouflaged by their “earthy” colored plumage. They almost always change their roost sites on a daily basis.
- When nesting, they sit quietly on the eggs, minimizing any movements that could get them detected.
- If an intruder does get close to the nest, the parents may try to lead them away by first flushing off the nest and when landing feigning injury as they lead the potential thread away from the nest. While the parent performs this distraction display, the young may scatter and freeze.
- The parent who is not incubating the eggs or brooding the young will roost away from the nesting area.
- They may also move the eggs or young to prevent them from being preyed upon.
- Nightjars avoid voicing when they hear the calls made by predatory nocturnal animals, such as owls.