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A photo of a Red-necked Nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis)
Red-necked Nightjar

Red-necked Nightjar

Caprimulgus ruficollis

The Red-necked Nightjar, Caprimulgus ruficollis, stands as the largest nightjar gracing the European continent. This bird is distinguished by its lichen-grey plumage, intricately barred and streaked with hues of buff, chestnut, and black. The underparts share this barred pattern. Notably larger and longer-tailed than its widespread relatives, it boasts a rufous neck-collar, a feature that gives rise to its name. Both sexes are adorned with white spots on their wings, tail sides, and throat. When at rest during daylight, its plumage offers superb camouflage, rendering it nearly invisible against the forest floor, resembling a mere fragment of bark or a lichen-covered twig. The Red-necked Nightjar measures approximately 32 cm in length with a wingspan reaching 64 cm. Its anatomy is well-suited for nocturnal life, with a wide gape and long wings cloaked in soft, downy feathers.

Identification Tips

To identify the Red-necked Nightjar, look for its large size, long tail, and the distinctive rufous collar around its neck. The white markings on the wings, tail sides, and throat are visible in flight and serve as key identification features. The bird's cryptic plumage can make it challenging to spot when it is lying still during the day.


This crepuscular species favors open sandy heaths dotted with trees or bushes. It is here, in these twilight zones, that the Red-necked Nightjar thrives, taking to the skies at dusk, most notably at sundown, in a silent, moth-like flight.


The Red-necked Nightjar breeds across the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa, choosing to spend its winters in the tropical climes of West Africa. It is a late migrant, typically not arriving in its breeding territories until the end of April or the onset of May.


The Red-necked Nightjar is a master of stealth and stillness by day, coming alive at night with easy, silent flights. It alternates between strong, deliberate wingbeats and graceful glides and wheels with motionless wings. This bird is a consummate aerial hunter, capturing crepuscular insects such as moths mid-flight.

Song & Calls

The nightjar's call is a distinctive mechanical kyok-kyok-kyok that modulates as the bird rotates its head. When churring, it may lie or crouch along a branch or rail, though it is also known to sing from atop a post. During courtship, and occasionally at other times, it produces a sharp, cracking sound by clapping its wings together over its back—a mechanical signal to potential mates.


The Red-necked Nightjar is a ground nester, laying two elongated and elliptical eggs directly upon the bare earth. The bird's plumage provides excellent camouflage, making the brooding bird itself the best defense against potential predators.

Similar Species

The European Nightjar is similar in appearance but can be differentiated by its smaller size, shorter tail, and lack of a rufous neck-collar.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Red-necked Nightjar consists primarily of nocturnal insects, with a particular fondness for moths. Its feeding strategy involves capturing these insects in flight during its crepuscular hunting sorties.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List currently classifies the Red-necked Nightjar as Near Threatened, indicating that it faces threats that could lead to its vulnerability in the near future. Conservation efforts are essential to ensure the survival of this unique species.

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