It was described from bones found in cave deposits and a single specimen taken in 1888. The species was considered extinct, the specimen being the last remnant of a "prehistoric" bird. However, it was found to be still extant in 1961; it had been overlooked due to its secretive habits and because its habitat was not surveyed.
The current population is estimated to be between 1,400 and 2,000 mature birds and expected to be stable as long as the habitat is not altered and introduced predators - mongooses, rats and cats - are controlled. The classification as critically endangered is mainly due to the special habitat on which it depends being much fragmented by degraded and unsuitable areas; thus the population is very patchily distributed.
The areas of occurrence are nowadays protected and it has been proposed to link areas of occurrence by reforestation with native plant species. However, a projected wind farm near Guayanilla has been controversially granted exemption from the Endangered Species Act under an "incidental take" permit; it has been suggested that up to 5% of the nightjar's population might suffer accidental death by collision with the wind turbines.