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Egyptian Nightjars arrive early to the breeding areas

We received two recent sightings of Egyptian Nightjars (Caprimulgus aegyptius) in this February from two important birding hotspots: Aousserd in Western Sahara and Merzouga in Eastern Sahara.

The first bird was seen at Laglat/Derraman near Oued Jenna on 18 Feb. 2016 by Javier Elorriaga and Yeray Seminario (Birding the Strait). In addition to the single Egyptian Nightjar, Javier added that they observed an unidentified nightjar flew over the acacias in Oued Jenna at dusk on the same day.

At Merzouga, two Egyptian Nightjars were seen on 21 and 22 Feb. 2016 by Mark Beevers with the Rockjumper Birding Tour.

The Egyptian Nightjars are not known to occur in their Northwest African breeding areas in February. Because of this, I did a quick search in grey literature and found that the species was recorded at Mergouga in February since at least 2007. I list below all known observations starting from the earliest:

  • One bird seen in a wadi south of Auberge Kasbah Said (near Merzouga) on 20 Feb. 2007 by Scandinavian birder Stefan Magnusson and his colleagues.
  • One bird photographed between Rissani and Merzouga on 26 Feb. 2014 by Dutch birder Maurice Elf.
  • Single birds were observed at Erg Chebbi, Merzouga on 28 Feb. 2014 and 2015 by Mark Beevers/ Rockjumper Birding Tour. As mentioned above, Mark and his birding group observed 2 birds at Merzouga on 21 and 22 Feb. 2016 (so observed during three years in a row!).
  • One bird calling at Merzouga on 26 Feb. 2015 heard by Jakub Vicek (thanks Patrick Bergier for mentioning this).
  • One bird photographed (pic 1) near Merzouga on 16 Feb. 2016 by Håkan Johansson and his colleagues. (We received this after publishing the blog-post, thanks Håkan).
  • Lahcen Ouacha, a local bird guide in the region of Merzouga-Rissani also confirmed the arrival of the Egyptian Nightjars in the breeding area in mid-February. Moreover, some of the observations mentioned above were made with his help.

On the other hand, a road-killed Egyptian Nightjar was photographed in Aousserd region on 29 November 2012 by Mohamed Mediani and his colleagues. This bird along with two records in late October (see table 1 in Mediani et al. 2013) may have been wintering birds rather than late migrants.

Available information in the literature (e.g. Thévenot et al. 2003) gave ‘early to mid March’ as the arrival date to the breeding areas for the species. Comparing this with the dates of the observations mentioned above we can see that the Egyptian Nightjars appear to “arrive” at least 15-20 days earlier. Following these observations, I am thinking about three non-exclusive explanations:

– The early arrival is only apparent (in other words, they always arrived in February but were overlooked in past decades).

– Egyptian Nightjars do arrive earlier at the breeding ground now in comparaison with the observations from the 20th century.

– They winter at or near the breeding grounds in some favourable years.

What do you think? Please don’t hesitate to comment.

Also, please send us any records (recent or old) of Egyptian Nightjars in the breeding areas from November to February (using the ‘contact us’ page).

Many thanks to all!


Mediani, M., Radi, M., Slimani, T., El Mouden, H., El Idrissi Essougrati, A. & Qninba A. 2013. Première mention de l’Engoulevent du désert (Caprimulgus aegyptius) dans l’Oued Ad Deheb et possible hivernage dans le sud du Maroc. Go-South Bulletin 10: 102-105.

Thévenot, M., Vernon, R. & Bergier, P. 2003. The Birds of Morocco. BOU Checklist No. 20. BOU, Tring.


  • 2017: bird guide Lahcen Ouacha photographed the first Egyptian Nightjar for the season on 18 February near Merzouga (photo 2). Tanemirt Lahcen! (= Thanks in Berber/Tamazight language).
  • 2018: the species arrived a little bit late at the breeding area in Merzouga region. Lahcen Ouacha photographed the first bird for that season on 28 February, that’s 10 and 12 days later than in 2017 and 2016 respectively. Note that these arrival dates are very accurate because Lahcen is in constant contact with the local nomades who let him know as soon as the nightjars arrive.
  • 2019: the Egyptian Nightjar arrived really early this season. Lahcen Ouacha photographed a bird near Merzouga on 4 Feb. 2019. Thanks Lahcen as usual!

I just discovered another interesting record: An Egyptian Nightjar near Erg Chebbi, Merzouga, on 9 November 2018 (Steve Hampton). This is very late, and probably the only record in this month in the breeding areas. The Moroccan population leaves the breeding areas between mid-August and October, with the latest known records was at Rgabi (east of Mhamid) in Draa valley on 26 October 1993 (Schollaert et al. in Thévenot et al. 2003).

Egyptian Nightjar / Engoulevent du désert (Caprimulgus aegyptius), near Merzouga, 16 Feb 2014
Egyptian Nightjar / Engoulevent du désert (Caprimulgus aegyptius), Merzouga area, Morocco, 16 Feb 2014 (Håkan Johansson)
Egyptian Nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius), Merzouga region, 18 February 2017 (Lahcen Ouacha)
Egyptian Nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius), Merzouga area, Morocco, 18 Feb 2017 (Lahcen Ouacha)

Thanks to all the birders for their records, and to Lahcen Ouacha for monitoring the Egyptian Nightjar’s arrival date during the last few years.

4 thoughts on “Egyptian Nightjars arrive early to the breeding areas”

  1. On the 22nd October, 2022, an Egyptian nightjar was on the balcony of an apartment in Dubai. Is this unusual, please? I have photos.

    1. Thank you, Margaret, for your comment!

      Yes, it’s indeed unusual for a desert-adapted bird like the Egyptian nightjar to turn up in the big city. This is especially so, in my opinion, because the species is native to the region.

      I am curious to see the photos. If you don’t mind sharing them (privately), please use the contact page.


      1. Margaret Jenkins

        Apologies, Mohamed, I wrongly addressed you as Maghreb.

        Kindly do not share the photos as I have not asked my son’s permission to do so. I will, if you would like me to, He lives in Dubai.

        Many thanks, Margaret

      2. Margaret Jenkins

        Good day, Mohamed, I hope that you received the photos I sent, of the Egyptian Nightjar… I am interested to know what you thought about the bird being in this location. If you have time to update me, even briefly, I’ll appreciate it..

        Thank you, Margaret

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