The general habits of the Nightjar are
quite as remarkable as its song. It feeds on the wing, chasing and capturing
the various moths, beetles, and other insects that :fly abroad by night.
It may be seen wheeling round the branches of some tree, the oak being
a special favourite, sometimes circling round it, and sometimes rising
high in the air, and the next moment skimming along the ground. Suddenly
it will disappear, and next moment its long trilling cry is heard from
among the branches of the tree round which it has been flying.
it while singing is almost impossible, for it has a habit of sitting longitudinally
on the branch, and not across it, like most birds, so that the outline
of its body cannot be distinguished from that of the bough on which it
is seated. As suddenly as it began, the sound ceases, and simultaneously
the bird may be seen wheeling again through the air with its noiseless
Being a very bold bird, and not much afraid
of man, it allows a careful observer to watch its movements clearly. The
naturalist writer, Reverend JG Wood wrote: "I have often stood close
to the tree round which several Nightjars were circling, and seen them
chase their prey to the ground within a yard or two of the spot on which
I was standing". The flight of
the Nightjar is singularly graceful. Swift as the swallow itself, it presents
a command of wing that is really wonderful, gliding through the air with
consummate ease, wheeling and doubling in pursuit of some active moth,
whose white wings glitter against the dark background, while the sober
plumage of its pursuer is scarcely visible, passing often within a few
feet of the spectator, and yet not a sound or a rustle will reach his ears.
Sometimes the bird is said to strike its wings together over its back,
so as to produce a sharp snapping sound, which is believed to be intended
to express anger at the presence of an intruder.
Owing to the soft plumage with which it
is clad, this bird, like the owls, looks larger than really is the case.
It is between ten and eleven inches in length, with an expanse of wing
of twenty inches, and yet weighs rather less than three ounces. Its large
mouth, like that of the swallow tribe, opens as far as the. eyes, and is
furnished with a set of vibrissae
or bristles, which remind the
observer of the 'whale-bone' which is set on the jaw of the Greenland whale.