eastern screech owl - what do birds do at night

What Do Birds Do At Night?

What Do Birds Do At Night?  Well some bird species who have been active all day (called diurnal birds) turn in for the night, just like we do, with every species sleeping or resting in its own way .  As for the nighttime birds (called nocturnal birds), they become very active and vocal.  Read on for more information……. 


sleeping mallard duck - what do birds do at night


I can confirm that ducks and geese float around in the water taking their nighttime rest. My husband and I  have had our fair share of overnight guests in our pond a few times.  How are they able to sleep with predators stalking around?  The answer is simple, birds have the amazing ability to be able to sleep with one eye opened.  It is called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep which allows them to sleep with one eye closed, all the while keeping their other eye looking out for unwanted predators advancing toward them.  Ducks and geese can also sense vibrations in the water for swimming predators such as turtles that may be coming towards them.  Small islands are also good places for ducks and geese to go at night for safety.

What about all of the other birds?  As I mentioned earlier, different bird species do different things.  Cavity nesters like woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens, titmice, and chickadees will find a nesting box or cavity in a tree and go there for the night.

Perching birds, called Passerines, such as cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, warblers, finches, grosbeaks,  and doves, will find thickets in trees, shrubs, and vines for the evening.   Perching birds have flexor tendons in their legs that help them to tighten onto a branch and stay locked to it so they will not fall out of a tree.  They hide in dense brush or behind foliage so that owls or other predators cannot find them.

Shorebirds will congregate in large groups on the beach or in the water.  They also have the ability to sense water vibrations like the ducks and geese when predators may be approaching.

Bigger birds such as Hawks and Eagles perch on a post or tree.  They also have flexor tendons in their legs which allow them to stay locked on a tree branch without falling.



Nocturnal Birds

eastern screech owl - what do birds do at nightThe nocturnal birds sleep during the day and find a safe place to rest too.    They also have the ability to sleep with one eye opened as you can see with this Eastern Screech Owl that my husband and I came across last weekend at Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio.  We saw it around 4 PM as we were walking in the woods.  It definitely was keeping an EYE on us :-).




common night hawk - what do birds do at night

About one hundred yards away was this Common Night Hawk resting on a tree branch (photo right).  It is pretty camouflaged as you can see and I am sure it was also very aware of our presence.

Then starting around sunset these two night birds like all nocturnal birds, will begin to awaken and begin their night time activities.     Owls will be foraging through the forest searching for their next meal.  A Common Night Hawk will be making aerial dives around bright lights grabbing insects for dinner.  

Night time is also the time when nocturnal birds feed their young, build nests, and do their preening, same as what the daytime birds do during the day.


Hooting and Calling

barred Owl - You may also hear some birds making a big ruckus at night too.  Have you ever heard an Owl or a Whip-poor-will calling in the night?  They can be pretty loud and in the Owl’s case, spooky sounding.  I remember the first time that I heard a Barred-Owl (photo left) making its loud monkey -like sounds one night (at least that is what it sounds like to me).  I sat up in bed with my eyes wide open (so my husband says) wondering what the heck was invading our backyard woods.

The Great-Horned Owl can also be strange to hear in the middle of the night especially if you happen to be outside when it is hooting very loudly.  Owls do this when they are trying to attract a mate.



As for the Whip-poor-will, that bird is so annoyingly loud it is incredible.  I remember camping with my sons at Boy Scout summer camp in Kentucky.  I was trying to get some sleep after a long, hot day of working with the young scouts with their merit badges.  Around two o’clock in the morning here comes the Whip-poor-will perched right above me in a tree calling for what seemed to be a half hour or longer.   Over and over all you hear is “whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will” as if it is repeating its name over and over again.  Don’t get me wrong, they are a very neat bird just not when I am trying to sleep ;-).

Mockingbirds are also known to call during the evening hours during spring and summer.  It is usually a male calling out for a mate,  sometimes for long periods of time.






In Conclusion

Every bird species is different when it comes to the night time hours.  The diurnal birds that are active during the daytime hours will find a place to rest for the night.  Perching birds with the flexor tendons in their legs allows them to perch in a safe spot in a tree, bush or in vines for the evening.  The cavity nesters will find a cavity in a tree or a nesting box to roost for the night.  Shorebirds will gather in large numbers on the beach or on the water’s edge with the ability to feel the vibrations in the water if there is an oncoming predator.

Ducks and Geese can also feel vibrations in the water as they float around a lake, river, or pond at night.  Plus, like all birds, they have the ability to sleep with only one eye closed,  called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep.  The other eye is open watching for potential predators lurking nearby.

The nocturnal birds on the other hand, sleep during the daytime hours in much the same way as some of the diurnal birds.  Then at dusk you will find them out hunting for food, calling loudly to attract a mate, or feeding their young.   If you are out late at night you may be lucky enough to spot one.

Do you have anything that you would like to add to this post about birds at night?  Please feel free to make your comments below.


Happy Birding!





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Posted in Owls, Raptors, Songbirds, Woodpeckers and tagged , .