A BIRD that was once endangered is making a comeback on the North York Moors.

A detailed survey of the nocturnal nightjar has revealed that its numbers have increased by almost 250 per cent over the past 12 years.

The birds are making their homes in Forestry Commission woods like Cropton and Dalby, near Pickering, and Wykeham and Harwood Dale, near Scarborough.

More than 40 volunteers took part in the study and identified 209 birds, compared with 85 in 1992 and just 45 ten years before that.

Conservationists are hailing the figures as a major breakthrough.

Forestry Commission wildlife officer Brian Walker said the scale of the recovery had caught them by surprise.

He said: "It's hard to imagine that in the 1970s we feared the bird was on the way out in the north. These results are a tremendous boost, especially for the volunteers who help monitor bird species in our woodlands."

Traditionally, nightjars nested on heathland but when that habitat declined, so did the birds.

However, the nightjars then began to colonise felled areas in forest plantations, which provide plenty of shelter as well as an abundance of insects to eat.

Mr Walker said: "The current population means our forests have become a key national stronghold.

"We may even have overtaken some of the bird's traditional havens in the south of England."

The nightjar, once known as the goatsucker for its supposedly magical ability to steal milk, is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and is also a priority species under European law.

* To mark the revival, two nightjar walks are being staged. They will set out at 9.30pm from Cropton Forest on June 3 and at the same time the following night in Harwood Dale. Further details are available from (01751) 472771.