Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular birds in the family Caprimulgidae and order Caprimulgiformes, characterised by long wings, short legs, and very short bills. They are sometimes called goatsuckers, due to the ancient folk tale that they sucked the milk from goats (the Latin for goatsucker is caprimulgus), or bugeaters, their primary source of food being insects. Some New World species are called nighthawks. The English word "nightjar" originally referred to the European nightjar.
Nightjars are found all around the world, with the exception of Antarctica and certain island groups such as Madagascar and the Seychelles. They can be found in a variety of habitats, most commonly the open country with some vegetation. They usually nest on the ground, with a habit of resting and roosting on roads.
The subfamilies of nightjars have similar characteristics, including small feet, of little use for walking, and long, pointed wings. Typical nightjars, though, have rictal bristles, longer bills, and softer plumage. The colour of their plumage and their unusual perching habits help conceal them during the day.
Nightjars inhabit all continents other than Antarctica, as well as some island groups such as Madagascar, the Seychelles, New Caledonia and the islands of Caribbean. They are not known to live in extremely arid desert regions. Nightjars can occupy all elevations from sea level to 4,200 m (13,800 ft), and a number of species are montane specialists. Nightjars occupy a wide range of habitats, from deserts to rainforests but are most common in open country with some vegetation. The nighthawks are confined to the New World, and the eared nightjars to Asia and Australia.
A number of species undertake migrations, although the secretive nature of the family may account for the incomplete understanding of their migratory habits. Species that live in the far north, such as the European nightjar or the common nighthawk, migrate southward with the onset of winter. Geolocators placed on European nightjars in southern England found they wintered in the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other species make shorter migrations.