Nightjar species of East Africa
Order Caprimulgiformes, Family Caprimulgidae – Nightjars
Their scientific name derives from the old believe that the Eurasian Nightjar milks milk from the udder of goats. Capri = goat, mulgere = milking.
In Africa you find the subfamily Caprimulginae with the genus Caprimulgus. Some are residents others intra African or Eurasian migrants.
The medium seized birds are crepuscular or nocturnal. During day time they hide out on the ground. Only few rest on tree branches.
With their long quite slim wings they soar through the darkness and often only the call can be heard but the nightjar remains invisible or just a dark shade passing by. When driving at night they can be found on roads on the ground. Sadly this is leading to many getting killed by vehicles and some species are even endangered. They build their nests on the ground which makes them vulnerable to uncontrolled pets, agricultural machines etc.
These nocturnal hunters are almost in every country on this planet. Most species prefer open vegetation.
The different Nightjar species are not easy to differentiate.
Their diet are moths, beetles, flies and other invertebrates. With a silent flight and a wide mouth surrounded by sensing hair like feathers they hunt successfully their often flying prey.
Since the members of the family Caprimulgidae are nocturnal it is difficult to photograph them at night even with artificial light. During daytime they hide and it is hard to detect them. At Lake Baringo we have spotters who search them and lead us to their whereabout. They do the same with owls for us.
To give you as actual information as possible we use Avibase, the books “Birds of South of the Sahara”, “Birds of East Africa”, “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania”. Then we put the most characteristic information to the photo.
You can also follow us on Facebook “Bird photography Safaris Kenya” and see the numerous species as well as the beautiful photos from Lorenzo Barelli.
Click on the photo for larger view. The names of the photographers are on the photo and in the text. Without the generosity of several amazing bird photographers it had not been possible to create the pages with so many illustrated bird species. Those photos without name are from Elvira Wolfer.
Fiery-necked Nightjar (Caprimulgus pectoralis shelleyi) is the subspecies found along Kenyan coast to SW Tanzania.
Black-shouldered Nightjar (Caprimulgus nigroscapularis) occurs from extreme Western Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, NW Tanzania.
Montane / Mountain / Abyssinian Nightjar (Caprimulgus p. poliocephalus) is found in highland forested and shrubbed areas in Ethiopia, Kenya, NE Uganda to N Tanzania. The subspecies guttifer / Usambara Nightjar occurs the Usambara Mountains and in SW Tanzania. Endemic East Africa. Nairobi National Park
European / Eurasian Nightjar / Common Goatsucker (Caprimulgus e. europaeus) spends the North winter in many parts of Africa. They are usually silent in Africa. They roost on branches during daytime.
Sombre Nightjar (Caprimulgus fraenatus) is found in open bush and grassland in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Northern/Central Tanzania. Endemic East Africa.
Ruwenzori Nightjar (Caprimulgus (poliocephalus) ruwenzorii) is as the name indicates found around the Ruwenzori Mountains in DRC and SW Uganda. Endemic.
Square-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus fossii) in East Africa you can find 2 subspecies. The greyer migrant from Southern Africa griseoplurus from June to September in Uganda, SE Kenya, welwitschii occurs from W Uganda, Southern Kenya to Southern Tanzania. At Speke’s Bay, Tanzania
Slender-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus clarus) is wide spread and common in dry woodland. Endemic to East Africa. Lake Baringo (best place to find it)
Nubian Nightjar (Caprimulgus nubius torridus) is found in part of the horn of Africa in semi-arid areas. Endemic.
Star-spotted Nightjar (Caprimulgus stellatus) is found in areas with lava and nearby sandy scrub in Northern Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Endemic.
Donaldson-Smith’s Nightjar (Caprimulgus donaldsoni) is endemic in semi-arid acacia and broadleafed savanna in from Eastern Kenya, Somalia and Northeastern Tanzania. Photo Lorenzo Barelli
Plain Nightjar (Caprimulgus inornatus) is a common migrant between East and West Africa. They breed in Sahel from March to August and then move on. Habitat: semi-arid areas. Photo Per Holmen
Star-spotted Nightjar (Caprimulgus stellatus) is endemic in areas with lava and nearby sandy scrub in Northern Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Freckled Nightjar (Caprimulgus t. tristigma) occurs in East Africa. Other subspecies further South. They like rocky outcrops in woodland, also found roosting on buildings.
Swamp Nightjar (Caprimulgus natalensis) prefers wet grassland. In Kenya found in Masai Mara area, Tanzania Serengeti region and in Western. Wider spread in Uganda and Ruanda. Photo Adam Scott Kennedy
Standard-winged Nightjar (Caprimulgus longipennis) is in East Africa best found in NW Uganda where they breed mainly September to April. Scarce in Western Kenya and elsewhere. A sighting is from Lake Baringo without the long breeding flags. Photo Wilson Tiren