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What Do Nightjars Eat [10+ Foods They Eat]

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Nightjars are fascinating birds with secretive feathers and habits, often sparking curiosity and wonder. 

At first glance, you might not even realize they’re birds because of their earthy-colored feathers that blend perfectly with their surroundings, especially when they’re resting on the ground during the day. 

But when night falls, their camouflage isn’t as effective, and they venture out to hunt for insects in areas lit by the moon or stars.

These birds are most active during the times of dawn and dusk, usually sitting quietly on branches or fence posts, waiting for prey to fly by. 

When insects come within reach, they quickly grab them from the air using their beaks or even their feet. 

But they’re not picky eaters; they also feast on small rodents and snakes.

Nightjars’ secretive appearance and nighttime lifestyle add to their mysterious allure, captivating birdwatchers and nature lovers alike. 

Their hidden behavior prompts questions about what do nightjars eat. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore their year-round eating habits, find out what nourishes baby Nightjars, and uncover how they find their food.

What do Nightjars Eat Throughout The Year: Foods They Love To Eat

nightjar on a tree branch

Nightjars, also called goatsuckers, are interesting birds that come out at night and are good at flying. 

They have feathers that help them blend into their surroundings and they can live in lots of different places like forests and fields. 

These birds mostly eat insects, and one of their favorite meals is bugs that fly around.

They’re good at catching flying insects like moths, beetles, mosquitoes, and ants that are in the air. 

Nightjars have big mouths and special hairs around their mouths that help them catch bugs.

You might see them flying close to the ground, catching bugs with quick moves.

Besides flying insects, nightjars also look for bugs on the ground. 

When the seasons change and there are different bugs around, they’ll eat beetles, spiders, grasshoppers, and even small reptiles they find in the grass or on the forest floor.

Even though they mostly eat bugs, nightjars might also eat small mammals like mice or bats sometimes, especially if there aren’t many bugs around or if they can’t find their usual food.

Here is a list of foods that Nightjars love to eat:

  1. Moths 
  2. Beetles 
  3. Mosquitoes 
  4. Grasshoppers 
  5. Flying ants  
  6. Lizards 
  7. Geckos 
  8. Beetles 
  9. Crickets 
  10. mice 
  11. Bats

What do Baby Nightjars Eat?

When baby nightjars hatch from their eggs, they start by eating food that their parents bring them. 

This food is a mix of chewed-up insects, which gives the babies important nutrients and energy to grow. 

The parents work hard to find these insects to make sure their babies are well-fed and healthy as they grow.

As the baby nightjars get older, they start eating whole insects that their parents bring them.

These insects might be small moths, beetles, or other bugs that are just right for their size and age.

Overall, baby nightjars depend on their parents to bring them insect meals to help them grow quickly and stay healthy. 

By eating these insects, the babies learn how to hunt and find food on their own as they grow into adult nightjars.

What do Common Nighthawk eat? 

The Common Nighthawk, found throughout North and South America, primarily feeds on flying insects such as moths, beetles, mosquitoes, and flying ants. 

They are skilled aerial hunters, using their wide mouths and agile flight to catch insects on the wing during dusk and dawn. 

Their diet consists mainly of nocturnal and crepuscular insects that are active during twilight hours.

What do European Nightjar eat?

The European Nightjar, known for its presence in Europe, parts of Asia, and Africa, has a diet primarily composed of flying insects like moths, beetles, mosquitoes, and flying ants.

These birds capture their aerial prey using their wide mouths and impressive agility.

Additionally, European Nightjars opportunistically consume ground-dwelling creatures such as beetles, spiders, grasshoppers, and small reptiles when the chance presents itself.

What do Large-tailed Nightjar eat?

The Large-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus), located in areas across Asia and Australia, primarily hunts a diverse selection of flying insects, favoring larger species like moths and beetles. 

Using their adept aerial skills and broad mouths, they catch these insects while flying during the dim light of twilight. 

Moreover, Large-tailed Nightjars sometimes supplement their diet by feeding on ground-dwelling insects and, on rare occasions, small reptiles found within their habitat.

How do Nightjars Find Its Food?

Nightjars mainly use their eyes to find food, especially when it’s getting light at dawn or dusk.

They have some special features that help them see well in low light: their eyes are big compared to their heads, so they can catch more light in the dark, and they have a special layer in their eyes that reflects light, making it easier for them to see in the dark. 

They can also see insects flying against the sky because they look darker against the lighter background. 

But as it gets darker, it’s harder for them to see. 

So, they change when they go hunting, mostly doing it when there’s still a bit of light at dawn and dusk. 

Sometimes they might hunt when the moon is bright too. 

Some types of nightjars even use lights from things like streetlamps to find insects to eat. 

While their main way of finding food is through their eyes, they might also use their sense of hearing a little bit, but not like bats do with echolocation.

Amazing Nightjars Facts You Didnt Know


1. Nightjars are good at flying silently. 

They have special feathers on their wings that help them glide through the air without making much noise. 

This makes them excellent hunters, especially at night when it’s dark.

2. Nightjars also have feathers that make them blend in with their surroundings well. 

Their feathers look like the bark or leaves of trees, which makes them hard to see. 

This helps them hide from predators and sneak up on their prey.

3. Some types of nightjars make all sorts of interesting sounds, like clicks, whirrs, and claps. 

They use these sounds to communicate with each other and to attract mates.

4. They usually lay their eggs directly on the ground or in shallow holes hidden in plants. 

Their nests are simple and don’t have much in them.

5. Some nightjars travel long distances when they migrate, flying thousands of miles between where they breed and where they spend the winter. 

This shows how good they are at finding their way around.

6. Nightjars live all over the world, in places like forests, deserts, and jungles. 

They can adapt to lots of different environments, which helps them survive.

7. People have been fascinated by nightjars for a long time. 

They appear in stories, myths, and traditions in many cultures, often associated with mystery and magic.

8. Some types of nightjars are facing problems like losing their homes because of things like deforestation and climate change. 

People are working to protect them and the places where they live.

9. They do lots of interesting things, like flying silently at night and doing fancy courtship displays. 

Learning about how they behave helps scientists understand more about them and how they’ve evolved.


Studying what nightjars eat shows us a lot about how they live and survive in nature. 

They mainly eat insects, which is a big part of their diet. 

They’re good at finding and catching bugs, showing us how they fit into the food chain. 

By learning more about how nightjars find food and live in the wild, we discover how they’ve adapted to life in the dark.

It’s like solving a puzzle about these mysterious birds and how they manage to thrive when the sun goes down.


What preys on nightjars?

Nightjars have several predators in the wild, including larger birds of prey like owls, hawks, and eagles.
Additionally, mammals such as foxes, raccoons, and snakes may also hunt nightjars, especially while they are roosting on the ground during the day.

Do nightjars eat bats?

No, nightjars do not typically eat bats.
Nightjars are insectivores, meaning they primarily feed on insects like moths, beetles, and mosquitoes, which they catch in mid-air using their specialized hunting techniques.
Bats are not a part of their regular diet.

Is a nightjar a bird or an owl?

Nightjars are a type of bird, but they are not owls.
While both birds are nocturnal and have similar hunting habits, they belong to different families.
Nightjars belong to the family Caprimulgidae, while owls belong to the family Strigidae.

What is the lifespan of a nightjar?

The lifespan of a nightjar varies depending on factors such as species, environmental conditions, and predation.
On average, nightjars can live for several years in the wild, with some species reaching up to 5-10 years or more under optimal conditions.

Do nightjars have red eyes?

While some species of nightjars may have eyes that appear red in certain lighting conditions, this is not a universal trait among all nightjar species.
Nightjars have a variety of eye colors, including brown, yellow, and orange, depending on the species.
Red eyes may appear due to reflections from blood vessels in the eye or the tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer that enhances night vision.

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