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Scientific classification

Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal birds with long wings, short legs and very short bills that usually nest on the ground and catch lying insects. Nightjars are sometimes referred to as goatsuckers from the mistaken belief that they suck milk from goats (the latin for goatsucker is Caprimulgus).

Nightjars are found around the world. They are mostly active in the late evening and early morning or at night, and feed predominately on moths and other large flying insects. Other names given to some of these birds include poorwill (from their cry) and nighthawk from their nocturnal hunting activities.

Most have small feet, of little use for walking, and long pointed wings. Their soft plumage is crypically coloured to resemble bark or leaves. Some species, unusually for birds, perch along a branch, rather than across it. This helps to conceal them during the day.

Nightjars lay one or two patterned eggs directly onto bare ground.

Traditionally, nightjars have been divided into two subfamilies: the Caprimulginae, or typical nightjars with about 70 species, and the Chordeilinae, or nighthawks of the New World with about 8 species. The two groups are similar im most respects, but the typical nightjars have rictal bristles, longer bills, and softer plumage. In their pioneering DNA-DNA hybridisation work, Sibley and Ahlquist found that the genetic difference between the eared nighjars and the typical nightjars was, in fact, greater than that between the typical nightjars and and the nighthawks of the New World. Accordingly, they placed the eared nightjars in a separate family: Eurostopodidae.

Subsequent work, both morphological and genetic, has provided support for the seperation of the typical and the eared nightjars, and some authorities have adopted this Sibley-Ahlquist recommendation, and also the more far-reaching one to group all the owls (traditionally Strigiformes) together in the Caprimulgiformes. The listing below retains a more orthox arrangement, but recognises the eared nightjars as a separate group. For more detail and an alternative classification scheme, see Caprimulgiformes and Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy.


  • Family Steatornithidae (Oilbird)
  • Family Podargidae (frogmouths, 13 species in 2 genera)
  • Family Aegothelidae (owlet-nightjars, 7 or 8 species in one genus)
  • Family Nyctibiidae (Potoos, about 6 species in 2 genera)
  • Family Caprimulgidae
    • Subfamily Chordeilinae (New World nighthawks)
    • Band-tailed Nighthawk, Nyctiprogne leucopyga
    • Nacunda Nighthawk, Podager nacunda
    • Rufous-bellied Nighthawk Lurocalis rufiventris
    • Short-tailed Nighthawk , Lurocalis semitorquatus
    • Antillean Nighthawk, Chordeiles gundlachii
    • Lesser Nighthawk, Chordeiles acutipennis
    • Common Nighthawk , Chordeiles minor
    • Least Nighthawk , Chordeiles pusillus
    • Sand-colored Nighthawk, Chordeiles rupestris
    • Subfamily Caprimulginae (typical nightjars)
    • Egyptian Nightjar, Caprimulgus aegyptius
    • Savanna Nightjar, Caprimulgus affinis
    • Scrub Nightjar, Caprimulgus anthonyi
    • Indian Nightjar, Caprimulgus asiaticus
    • Jerdon's Nightjar, Caprimulgus atripennis
    • Yucatan Nightjar, Caprimulgus badius
    • Bates's Nightjar, Caprimulgus batesi
    • Brown Nightjar, Caprimulgus binotatus
    • White-winged Nightjar, Caprimulgus candicans
    • Chuck-will's-widow Caprimulgus carolinensis
    • White-tailed Nightjar, Caprimulgus cayennensis
    • Sulawesi Nightjar, Caprimulgus celebensis
    • Vaurie's Nightjar, Caprimulgus centralasicus
    • Slender-tailed Nightjar, Caprimulgus clarus
    • Long-tailed Nightjar, Caprimulgus climacurus
    • Bonaparte's Nightjar, Caprimulgus concretus
    • Greater Antillean Nightjar, Caprimulgus cubanensis
    • Donaldson-Smith's Nightjar, Caprimulgus donaldsoni
    • Collared Nightjar, Caprimulgus enarratus
    • European Nightjar, Caprimulgus europaeus
    • Golden Nightjar, Caprimulgus eximius
    • Square-tailed Nightjar, Caprimulgus fossii
    • Sombre Nightjar, Caprimulgus fraenatus
    • Pygmy Nightjar, Caprimulgus hirundinaceus
    • Grey Nightjar, Caprimulgus indicus
    • Plain Nightjar, Caprimulgus inornatus
    • Band-winged Nightjar, Caprimulgus longirostris
    • Large-tailed Nightjar, Caprimulgus macrurus
    • Spot-tailed Nightjar, Caprimulgus maculicaudus
    • Cayenne Nightjar, Caprimulgus maculosus
    • Madagascar Nightjar, Caprimulgus madagascariensis
    • Sykes's Nightjar, Caprimulgus mahrattensis
    • Philippine Nightjar, Caprimulgus manillensis
    • Swamp Nightjar, Caprimulgus natalensis
    • Blackish Nightjar, Caprimulgus nigrescens
    • Black-shouldered Nightjar, Caprimulgus nigriscapularis
    • Puerto Rican Nightjar, Caprimulgus noctitherus
    • Nubian Nightjar, Caprimulgus nubicus
    • Little Nightjar, Caprimulgus parvulus
    • Fiery-necked Nightjar, Caprimulgus pectoralis
    • Montane Nightjar, Caprimulgus poliocephalus
    • Itombwe Nightjar, Caprimulgus prigoginei
    • Salvadori's Nightjar, Caprimulgus pulchellus
    • Buff-collared Nightjar, Caprimulgus ridgwayi
    • Red-necked Nightjar, Caprimulgus ruficollis
    • Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, Caprimulgus rufigena
    • Rufous Nightjar, Caprimulgus rufus
    • Ruwenzori Nightjar, Caprimulgus ruwenzorii
    • Tawny-collared Nightjar, Caprimulgus salvini
    • Dusky Nightjar, Caprimulgus saturatus
    • Silky-tailed Nightjar, Caprimulgus sericocaudatus
    • Star-spotted Nightjar, Caprimulgus stellatus
    • Freckled Nightjar, Caprimulgus tristigma
    • Whip-poor-will Caprimulgus vociferus
    • Roraiman Nightjar, Caprimulgus whitelyi
    • Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Hydropsalis brasiliana
    • Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Hydropsalis climacocerca
    • Standard-winged Nightjar, Macrodipteryx longipennis
    • Pennant-winged Nightjar, Macrodipteryx vexillarius
    • Long-trained Nightjar, Macropsalis creagra
    • Pauraque, Nyctidromus albicollis
    • Eared Poorwill, Nyctiphrynus mcleodii
    • Ocellated Poorwill, Nyctiphrynus ocellatus
    • Yucatan Poorwill, Nyctiphrynus yucatanicus
    • Common Poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttallii
    • Jamaican Poorwill, Siphonorhis americanus
    • Least Poorwill, Siphonorhis brewsteri
    • Lyre-tailed Nightjar, Uropsalis lyra
    • Swallow-tailed Nightjar, Uropsalis segmentata
    • Sickle-winged Nightjar, Eleothreptus anomalus
    • Subfamily Eurostopodidae (eared nightjars)
    • Mountain Eared-Nightjar, Eurostopodus archboldi
    • Spotted Eared-Nightjar, Eurostopodus argus
    • Satanic Eared-Nightjar, Eurostopodus diabolicus
    • Great Eared-Nightjar, Eurostopodus macrotis
    • White-throated Eared-Nightjar, Eurostopodus mystacalis
    • Papuan Eared-Nightjar, Eurostopodus papuensis
    • Malaysian Eared-Nightjar, Eurostopodus temminckii

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