Nightjar survey shows decline in numbers but increase in range

© Martin Bennett

Our recent survey for nightjars in the New Forest has revealed a drop in their population, but an increase in their range.

The results from our nightjar surveys in the New Forest commissioned by the Forestry Commission are now in, and unfortunately the figures suggest a 20% drop in nightjar populations locally since 2013. We have seen crashes in the population previously - the 2001 survey showed a decline of over 200 territories from 1996, and 5 years later this was back up to really high numbers of 700.

We know that poor weather during migration can affect the species and in 2018 we had a late cold spell that may be the cause for this significant decline. Increased disturbance and habitat management changes may also have had an impact.

However, while numbers were lower in comparison to the previous survey conducted in 2013, the nightjars’ range was wider. This means that previously unsuitable areas now offer the required habitat features. We believe this is down to the Forestry Commission and other commons owners restoring heathland across the New Forest. There may also be unrecorded birds living outside the scope of our survey.

About nightjars

Arriving here in April and May from their wintering grounds in Africa, nightjars nest on the ground in young, coniferous woods and heathlands. These nocturnal, unusual looking birds feed on moths, flies and beetles, and are notoriously difficult to spot.

Nightjars are amazingly well camouflaged - their cryptic, bark-like plumage conceals them among the undergrowth, and you are most likely to see them at dusk, when the males can put on elaborate displays for females. They fly theatrically around them, clapping their wings and making their distinctive 'churring' calls.

Help with our records

If you see or hear a nightjar, please consider recording your sighting and sharing it with us. This will help bolster our findings and build a more complete picture of nightjar populations in the local area – and what can be done to help them. You can submit your records via our online form.   

You can help our local nightjar populations by walking sensitively through heaths and woods of the New Forest . Keeping to paths and ensuring that dogs remain under close control will reduce disturbance to nightjars particularly whilst they are nesting, encouraging them to breed and thrive.

We would like to thank all those who gave their time to help with the surveying effort – we could not have gathered this data without you, and are extremely grateful for your support.

Read our full survey results.