Pebblebeds will soon hear the nightjar's call
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On the Pebblebed Heaths National Nature Reserve we have been awaiting the return of one of our most important visitors, the Nightjar.
Leaving equatorial Africa in spring, these birds, weighing less than a single banana, cover more than 4000 miles to spend the summer in the south of England. The East Devon Pebblebed Heaths is the perfect habitat to find a mate and raise some youngsters. In a week or so we will know whether our birds delayed their journey or arrived in the wet weather with its added challenges. On arrival these long-distance travellers will look to replenish energy lost on their journey by feeding on a plentiful source of moths, flies and beetles.
Nightjars have long wings, short legs and very short bills. Their greyish-brown plumage is intricately marked and against the heathland floor they are amazingly well camouflaged.
These birds are most easily spotted as darkness falls. Males can be seen, flying about hawking for food, patrolling their territories, wing-clapping and displaying to females. In fine summer evenings our heathland areas echo to a most unusual 'churring' call.
Nightjars don’t build nests but instead lay a couple of eggs directly onto the ground. After three weeks the chicks will hatch and in just over a fortnight be ready to fledge. To give these amazing birds the very best chance of raising young successfully, it is essential they are not disturbed when incubating eggs or raising young on the heathland floor. This is especially important for dog owners who we ask to help by keeping their four-legged friends under close control and on main paths during the summer months.
To experience this natural spectacle on the heathland this summer, arrive before dusk, and find a good spot, preferably with as wide a view as possible as it’s a lot easier to spot the birds in silhouette against open skies than against gorse or trees. As the light drops the nightjars will start to churr and your patience may be rewarded further with an acrobatic aerial display. Alternatively consider joining guided nightjar events with the Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust or RSPB as part of next month’s Heath Week