CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Dorset Magazine today CLICK HERE

The remarkable summer visitor to Dorset’s heathland

PUBLISHED: 11:31 13 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:33 13 June 2017

A male European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) on its song perch (Photo by David Tipling Photo Library/Alamy Stock Photo)

A male European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) on its song perch (Photo by David Tipling Photo Library/Alamy Stock Photo)

Credit: David Tipling Photo Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Dorset’s heathland becomes a magical place at dusk with the churring chorus of a remarkable summer visitor, says Paul Morton of Birds of Poole Harbour

Dorset heathland is one of the most protected habitats in southern England. This special landscape is home to some very rare flora and fauna, and summer is a great time to see and hear some of its feathered residents. Keep your eyes on the skies for the aerial acrobatics of the sickle-winged hobby. On sunny days you may be lucky enough to see it perform seemingly impossible manoeuvres over heathland ponds as it catches dragonflies in mid-air with its talons. Listen for the melodic woodlark and tree pipit as they battle it out for vocal supremacy. And the once rare, but now ‘showy’ Dartford warbler is enough to satisfy any birding need. However the star billing of the summer heathland scene belongs to one very special and elusive bird – the nightjar.

This crepuscular creature ‘plays log’ by day, using its exquisite camouflage to blend in with the warm, dry heathland floor, lying motionless for hours until the darkness begins to fall. As dusk creeps up and all other birds go to roost, the nightjar begins to stir. With eyes flickering open and wings stretching, its shift begins.

Courtship and territory behaviour, carried out at dawn and dusk, involves the males vigorously chasing each other, flashing bright white wing patches to one another, stating claim on an area of heath but more importantly, a mate. After several minutes of fast aerial battles, in and out of small pine trees, interspersed with their frog-like calls, the males are ready to sing. If you’ve never heard nightjars sing then promise yourself that this summer you will go and hear their song. It is a truly spine-tingling experience that once heard you’ll never forget.

As darkness falls and the inky glow of night appears, the male nightjar will find a protruding tree branch to settle on and begin his ‘churring’ chorus. The eerie metallic sound rings out across the bell heather, changing in pitch every so often, and lasting for several minutes at a time. First one, then two, then four, then six males all calling at once, provide your very own stereo soundscape. Then, as quickly as it all began the ‘churring’ stops once darkness fully arrives. At this point the nightjars go and feed, often 5 -10km away, either up the river valley, over gardens and even over the odd garden centre!

The nightjar, which arrives on our shores from Africa in mid May to breed, is a most welcome summer visitor to Dorset’s heathlands. They will be gone by August so make this the summer that you are serenaded at dusk by a magnificent nightjar orchestra.

Find out more at


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Dorset visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Dorset staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Dorset account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Yesterday, 12:40

From festive light switch-ons and Santa’s Grottos, to German Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Dorset this season

Read more
Yesterday, 17:06

Confusion reigns on the county’s eastern border

Read more

From your first step, you will see superb views from hilltops and farmland footpaths on this walk

Read more
Sunday, November 11, 2018

Martin Clunes and his family have called West Dorset home for over two decades. Here he shares some of their favourite local places

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

To mark the centenary of the end of World War One we visit some of the memorials erected across Dorset to remember the fallen in the ‘war to end all wars’

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

This lovely walk takes us from watercress beds to a church famous for its life-size carvings of apostles

Read more
Thursday, October 25, 2018

Autumn is a great time to brush up on your gardening knowledge with the help of some experts, as well as see some well known gardens in a different light

Read more
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The guide to Dorset’s best firework displays and bonfire events happening in 2018

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Prepare to experience the paranormal this Hallowe’en as Visit Dorset reveals some of the county’s most haunted pubs, stately homes, historic buildings and tanks

Read more
Monday, October 15, 2018

Dorset villages are some of the most beautiful in England – think winding lanes, thatched cottages and a cosy pub or welcoming tea room. We suggest ten of the prettiest villages to visit in the county

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

Follow in the footsteps of the Romans on this lovely walk that takes in rare habitat, ancient woodland and glorious views

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

This challenging coastal walk rewards your efforts with spectacular views along the Jurassic Coast

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Marine photographer Steve Belasco shares some very special wildlife moments

Read more
Wednesday, September 5, 2018

TravelSupermarket has uncovered the top 25 most popular UK beaches on Instagram after analysing hashtags used for over 1,100 beaches and Bournemouth comes out on top

Read more
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search