Egyptian nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius)

French: Engoulevent du désert
GenusCaprimulgus (1)
SizeLength: 25 cm (2)
Wingspan: 63 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The scientific name for this species, Caprimulgus, is from the Latin for “goat sucker”, a name that arose from a past belief that this bird sucked milk from the teats of goats (3). This is now known to be a myth and probably originated as a result of nightjars being frequently seen in fields of goats and sheep, where they fed on insects attracted by the livestock’s presence (4).

The Egyptian nightjar is well adapted to its life in the desert. Its sand coloured feathers are mixed with streaks of brown and black, helping it to blend in amongst the sandy surroundings (3). The underside is much lighter in colour and the male has white dots on its wings. Juvenile Egyptian nightjars have beautifully patterned soft down that helps camouflage them from predators (3).

The breeding range of the Egyptian nightjar extends through most of North Africa, the Middle East and south-western Asia (1), while in the winter months it migrates to the warmer regions of North Africa. There have also been rare sightings of this species in Europe and even in locations as far away as China (2).       

The Egyptian nightjar is one of the few known desert bird species (5), although it is also said to occur in shrubland and grassland (1).

Little research has been undertaken on the behaviour of the Egyptian nightjar, but what is known about this species fits into the general trend for the genus Caprimulgus. The Egyptian nightjar is active at dusk, when it feeds on a variety of flying insects, predominantly beetles and moths but also flies, crickets, termites and flying ants (3). With its very long wings and strong moth-like flight the Egyptian nightjar is well-adapted to snatching its prey from the air during flight (3). Suggestions that the Egyptian nightjar uses echolocation to catch nocturnal insects have not been confirmed; instead, there is much evidence that it hunts by sight and this is why it stops feeding in the middle of the night when it is too dark to see flying insects (3).

Little is known about the breeding patterns of the Egyptian nightjar, although it is thought that its breeding season is timed to coincide with seasonal peaks of insect abundance, often around the end of the wet season. This species does not build nests; instead a clutch of two eggs is laid directly on the sand. The eggs are mottled with lines and scribbles, which camouflages them against the ground they are laid on. During the daytime the Egyptian nightjar can be observed carefully protecting its clutch, avoiding detection through excellent camouflage and by remaining silent. The parents feed the young by regurgitating insects (3).

There are no known threats specific to the Egyptian nightjar, but although its population has not been formally quantified, it is believed to be in decline. Nonetheless, the decline is not seen to be sufficiently rapid for this species to be considered as threatened with extinction. Consequently it is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (1).

There are no known conservation measures currently in place for the Egyptian nightjar.

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  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: Profiles of Birds Occurring in Britain and Ireland. BTO Research Report 407, BTO, Thetford.
  3. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopaedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Jones, T.R. (1865) The Animal Creation: A Popular Introduction to Zoology. Society for Promoting Knowledge, London.
  5. Cowan, P.J. (1996) Desert birds of the Caspio-central Asian desert. Global Ecology and Biogeography Letters, 5(1): 18-22.