Nightjar. Goatsucker. European Or Nocturnal Goatsucker. Dor, Or Night-Hawk. Fern, Churn, Or Jar-Owl. Night-Jar, Or Night-Char. Wheelbird. Puckeridge. Rhodwr and Aderyn V Droell, of the Ancient British. Figure 19. [top]

Varioud bird eggs

To the above long list of names, we might add two or three others by which different naturalists distinguish this remarkable bird, but the most common of its scientific designations will be sufficient; this is Caprimulgus Europæus, the first name being derived from the Latin caper —a goat, and mulgio —to milk; it having been at one time supposed that the poor innocent bird was in the habit of sucking the teats of the goats to obtain the milk; and there are, we believe, some ignorant persons in out-of-the-way country-places, who still give credence to this absurd notion, and even fancy that the udders of the cows, as they lie asleep, are drained by the feathered depredator, as they consider the Churn Owl to be. From this supposed habit of the bird, and the whirring or jarring noise which it makes when flying, are derived most of the names given above.

The Goatsucker flies chiefly by night, and is oftener heard than seen; whirr, whirr, whirr  it goes, like a spinning-wheel, and the sound is interrupted every now and then by a shrill whistle or scream, or a softer cry, dec, dec , which it generally utters when getting on the wing. White, of Selborne, says, that when a person approaches the haunt of the Fern Owls in an evening, they continue flying round the head of the intruder, and by striking their wings together across their backs, in the manner that the pigeons called Smiters are known to do, make a smart snap. He thinks it likely that this is done by way of menace, to scare those who are approaching their young. This author also observes, that the powers of flight of this bird are truly wonderful, exceeding, if possible, in graceful ease and celerity, even those of the Swallow, than which it is a much larger bird.

Its plumage is remarkably soft and downy, like that of the Owl, and is prettily marked and mottled, the colours being brown, yellow, and grey of various shades. The eye is large and hawk-like, the bill small, the mouth capable of great distension, and fringed with small feathers, which have a very curious appearance.

The Goatsucker is pretty common throughout the whole of England, but more so in the south than the north; it is a migratory bird, arriving towards the middle or end of May and departing in September. It chiefly inhabits woods, moors, heaths, and commons, especially where fern and brushwood abound. Its food consists chiefly of moths, beetles, and such insects as are most frequently met with on the wing in the morning and evening twilight.

The nest consists of a few dead leaves huddled together in some hollow in the ground, among the heath, long grass, or fern; it is frequently found at the foot of a furze or other bush. The eggs, two or three in number, are of a perfect oval shape, beautifully clouded and streaked with grey and light brown on a white ground; they are laid in the beginning of July, in about the middle of which month the young are generally hatched.