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Nightjar, Bustards, Swifts and Cuckoos

Updated: Mar 31

Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor

Rare: just one record of a one that flew in off the sea just north of Housel Bay and then headed towards Church Cove on 7th Oct 2008. It was last seen hawking around the lifeboat station later that day.


Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus [BoCC5: Amber]

Anecdotal reports suggest that this species was widespread and quite common in the 19th century. About four pairs breed in the Croft Pascoe area, and at various other sites with suitable habitat on the north Lizard, south to Windmill Farm. Rare away from there with just two records. Singles at Kynance on 27th May 2003 and Lizard Village on 11th Jul 2013 (B Cave).

Nightjar, Lizard area, 29th May 2015. Tony Blunden

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Nightjar on the Lizard. The sole record is of probable breeding at Croft Pascoe. The species currently breeds more widely.


Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba

A rare species on the Lizard, with just 14 record (singles unless otherwise stated):


1859: 'taken' from the Lizard area (no date or location).

1970: 17th Apr at Bass Point (B Cave).

1978: 28th Apr at Gunwalloe and Hot Point.

1982: 10th-13th Apr at Kynance.

1990: 29th Apr (unspecified location)

1992: 11th Apr at Loe Bar.

1998: 9th May (location unspecified).

2009: 1st Jun over Lizard Village (B Cave).

2012: 18th Mar over Lizard Village (T Blunden)

2018: Up to 3 around Lizard Village on 10th Apr 2018 (C Benton), with 2 seen intermittently on 5th-14th Apr 2018 (G Swan, M Pass et al) and one at Porthleven on 14 Apr (I Maclean).

2019: 29th Jun over Lizard Village (T Blunden).

Alpine Swift, Lizard Village, 29th Jun 2019. Tony Blunden


Swift Apus apus [BoCC5: Red]

Common summer visitor and documented as being so as far back as 1808. Extreme dates are 31st March (2024) and 25th Sep (2015) though this species or a Pallid Swift was seen on 27th Nov 1994 at Black Head.

Swifts in the evening sun, 6th July 2019. Tony Blunden

An early Common Swifty over Porthleven on 31st March 2024. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Swift on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.


(Pallid Swift Apus pallidus)

This species or Common Swifts were seen on 27th Nov 1994 at Black Head and on 10th Nov 2018 at Bass Point.


(Little Swift Apus affinis)

One reported from Lizard Village on 17th June 2012 was rejected by the BBRC.


Great Bustard Otis tarda [IUCN: VU][BoCC5: Extinct]

There are four documented records of genuine vagrants in Cornwall, the second being of a female seen for a few days on the Bonython estate in mid Feb 1843. Characteristic of the times it was shot on 15th Feb. A bird from the re-introduction scheme in Wiltshire was seen and photographed at Bass Point on 5th Jul 2006.


Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax [IUCN: NT]

Historically, this species was evidently more common as there are quite a number of 18th century records of this species, including several from the Lizard area. One was shot on the Trelowarren Estate towards the end of May 1835 and another was shot in the Lizard area on 29th Oct 1869. In the winter of 1874/75, coinciding with a sizable irruption into Britain, one was shot in a turnip field at St Keverne on 20th Dec 1874 and another was shot near St Martin probably in early January 1975 (though given the uncertainty in dates, it is possible the two different sources mentioning this may in fact be referring to the same bird ). Another was 'taken' near Constantine in Dec 1904.


The modern record, of a single frequenting the Chapel Lane area 24th-29th Oct 1996 is one of the highlights of the Lizard’s within living memory birding era. First found by Brian Cave, who kept the record to himself, it was found independently by Andy Pay on 26th Oct.


Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius

The sole Lizard record of this species is one on Lizard Downs from 24th Apr-9th May 2014. It was first photographed by a member of the public who contacted the RSPB enquiries team.

Great Spotted Cuckoo over Lizard Downs. Ilya Maclean


Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus

One picked up dead near Cury on or shortly before 14th Oct 1887.


Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus

The only Lizard record of this species is of a moribund bird found in a wood near Gweek on 30th Oct 1965.


Cuckoo Cuculus canorus [BoCC5: Red]

Historically common on heath and moorland throughout Cornwall. Though there is no specific mention of birds from the Lizard area, the habitat and relative abundance of this species is such that one can infer it is likely to have occurred quite commonly. It remains a fairly common summer visitor, though is undoubted declining. A few pairs breed on Lizard Downs and Goonhilly. It is rare on the north of the Lizard though has been seen around Loe Bar a few times and near Porthleven on 22nd Jul 1977. Extreme dates are 12th Apr (2003) and 13th Oct (2021): a rather narrow window given that elsewhere in Cornwall this species has been recorded as early as January and February.

Young Common Cuckoo, 20th Aug 2015. Tony Blunden

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Cuckoo on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

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