Wild Birds

Swallow-tailed Nightjar

The Swallow-tailed Nightjars (Uropsalis segmentata) is a South American nightjar. This nightjar is heard within its range, but not often seen – due to its nocturnal habits. Its brown-mottled plumage keeps it well camouflaged during the day when it is also usually hidden away from sleeping.

Their cryptic appearance allows them to blend perfectly into their woodland habitats.

Furthermore, they spend the days hidden away sleeping. They are more easily detected at night when light from car headlights is reflected ruby-red from their eyes, as these birds are sitting on roads or tracks.

However, their presence is most often made known by their loud calls given at dusk.

Alternate (Global) Names:

Chinese: ????? … Czech: Lelek vidloocasý … Dutch: Vorkstaartnachtzwaluw … Danish: Svalehalenatravn … Estonian: pääsu-öösorr … Finnish: Pääskykehrääjä … French: Engoulevent à queue d’aronde … German: Gabelnachtschwalbe, Schwalbenschwanz-Nachtschwalbe … Italian: Succiacapre coda di rondine, Succiacapre codadirondine … Japanese: tsubameyotaka … Norwegian: Svalenattravn … Polish: Dziwoletek wst?gosterny, dziwolotek wstegosterny, dziwolotek wst?gosterny … Russian: ??????????? ??????????? ???????, ??????????? ??????? … Slovak: lelek nožnicochvostý … Spanish: Chotacabras Golondrina, Dormilón Lira Chico, Guardacaminos Golondrina … Swedish: Svalstjärtnattskärra

Distribution / Habitat

The Swallow-tailed Nightjars occurs naturally in the Andes mountain range along the western coast of South America – from Colombia south through Ecuador and Peru to Bolivia.

They inhabit cloud forests, subtropical or tropical moist montanes, and high-altitude grassland.

Subspecies and Ranges

  • Uropsalis segmentata segmentata (Cassin, 1849) – Nominate Race
    • Range: Colombia, along the western slope of the Andes and east Andes, as well as northern Ecuador.
  • Uropsalis segmentata kalinowskii (Berlepsch and Stolzmann, 1894)
    • Range: Occurs on the slopes of the east Andes in central Peru; as well as western and central Bolivia.


Even though this species is described as “uncommon” (Stotz et al. 1996) — it does have a large range and its population appears to be stable.

For this reason, this species is not considered “Vulnerable” to extinction at this point, despite the severe fragmentation of its habitat in part of its range, which could put this species at risk in the future.

Swallow-tailed Nightjar (Uropsalis segmentata)


The male Swallow-tailed Nightjars has a black/brown / cinnamon mottled plumage with a spectacular long, bifurcated (Y-shaped) tail – akin to the tail of a “swallow” for which it was named.

The female has a shorter tail and her plumage is darker mottled with cinnamon-brown.

Calls / Vocalization

The Swallow-tailed Nightjars has a buzzy, whistled rising-falling song that is often heard at dusk or night.

Nesting / Breeding

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 construct a nest, as most other bird species do. They simply place the eggs on the ground on open soil covered with dead leaves.

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, 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 at which time the hatchlings emerge. They are covered in feathers and depend on parental care. Within 24 hours of hatching, they are capable of short-distance movements within 24 hours.

The male stands guard and defends the nest and the young. He will hover in place near the nest with his body in a nearly vertical position.

The adults communicate with their young via soft clucking sounds to which the chicks respond.

The parents feed the young regurgitated food (insects), and they continue to brood them until they fledge. The chicks 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 the 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 daily.
  • 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.

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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