What birds fly at night? And, why would they do so? We think of our feathered friends as having the same patterns as most of us; we’re awake and moving around during the day, then rest during the nighttime hours.
Just like humans, not all birds sleep at night. Some species are quite busy when it’s dark outside, in fact!
The fact that 30% of North American birds do fly at night is amazing! It’s not common for other types of birds to do so unless they are under distress, bothered, or scared off by a person or animal. If you happen to see a bird flying during the evening hours, it may be looking for another safe spot nearby in order to roost or avoid predators that come out only after dark.
Let’s learn more about these beautiful creatures and why they choose to fly around when we’re all tucked in bed.
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The Difference Between Diurnal and Nocturnal Birds
Birds don’t all live with the same body clocks, and in fact, are quite different from each other. They are generally defined as diurnal or nocturnal birds.
The definition of diurnal is “active during the day.” The definition of nocturnal is “active during the night.” So, diurnal birds are those that are awake and active during the day, while nocturnal birds are those that are awake and active during the night.
Most birds fall into one category or the other – they’re either diurnal or nocturnal. However, there are some birds that are considered to be “semi-diurnal” or “semi-nocturnal.” These birds are active during both the day and the night, but they prefer one activity over the other.
Why Do Some Birds Fly at Night?
There are several reasons why birds might choose to fly at night.
1. Birds that are nocturnal are active during the night because that’s when they’re naturally awake. For example, owls are nocturnal because their eyes are adapted to seeing well in low-light conditions.
2. Some birds fly at night because they sleep during the day and are active at night. This is the case for many songbirds. They sing during the night to declare their territory or to attract a mate.
3. Some birds fly at night because they are primarily diurnal but have been disturbed from their nighttime roost. This can happen if there’s a lot of noise or activity happening near where they’re trying to sleep.
4. Some birds fly at night because they are primarily diurnal but carry on singing for courtship or to declare their territory at night.
5. Some birds migrate at night.
All of these reasons have one thing in common: the bird is not trying to avoid you! They’re simply going about their business and doing what they do naturally.
What Bird Species Fly at Night?
Some of the nocturnal species are owls, whip-poor-wills, nighthawks, nightjars, and night herons. There are some species of songbirds that are nocturnal as well. Not all owls fly at night – in fact, some owls are diurnal.
Most owls are nocturnal: barn owl, barred owl, barn owlet, burrowing owl, elf owl, great gray owl, long-eared owl, northern pygmy-owl, and great horned owl.
The Whip-poor-will is a type of nightjar that makes its living by eating insects. It flies at night and hunts for them in open grasslands where it can make use of its superb hearing to capture prey.
The Nighthawk is a bird that you might see flying around during the evening hours. It’s a type of falcon and it feeds primarily on insects.
Birds called Nightjars are another type of bird that you might see flying around at night. They are found in forests, woodlands, and even in open grasslands.
The Night Heron is a type of heron that is found near water. They are active at night, and hunt for small fish and amphibians.
There are some diurnal songbirds that sing at night as well. These include the European Robin, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Eastern Bluebird, American Goldfinch.
There are many types of birds that migrate at night. This is because they follow the moon and stars instead of using daylight when it is cloudy. Birds that migrate at night include the Swainson’s Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, White-throated Swift, Blackpoll Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
How can you tell a nocturnal bird from a diurnal one?
It’s not always easy to tell if a bird is active during the day or at night! But, there are some things that can help you distinguish whether it’s active during the day or the night.
1. Nocturnal birds are usually very quiet, while diurnal birds are usually very vocal.
2. Nocturnal birds have eyes that are adapted to seeing well in low-light conditions, while diurnal birds have eyes that are not as good at seeing in low light.
3. Nocturnal birds are usually active at night, while many diurnal birds are active during the day.
4. Nocturnal birds typically have brown or black feathers, while diurnal birds typically have more brightly colored feathers. The dull colors in their feathers are harder to see at night and protect them from predators.
5. Nocturnal birds are often seen perched on a branch with their wings closed, while diurnal birds are typically seen perched with their wings open and ready to fly.
6. Nocturnal birds roost in the trees, while diurnal birds tend to roost on the ground or on a perch such as a fence post.
7. Nocturnal birds often have a different feeding schedule than diurnal birds.
8. Nocturnal birds are more likely to be seen in areas that are dark, while diurnal birds are more likely to be seen in areas that are light.
9. Nocturnal birds can sometimes be identified by their unique flight patterns, especially when compared to diurnal birds.
What Else Are These Nocturnal Birds Doing at Night?
- Some nocturnal birds are singing or defending their territory at night.
- Owls might be out looking for food, while whip-poor-wills are probably sleeping in a concealed location during the day.
- Nighthawks and nightjars may be overlooking open areas, watching for insects or small animals to prey upon.
- Night herons might be fishing in a nearby pond or marsh, watching for fish to swim by.
Why Would Birds Migrate at Night?
Some birds migrate at night because they use the moon and stars to navigate in a way that doesn’t require as much daylight.
Most of the migrating birds fly between 5,000 and 20,000 feet, traveling non-stop for hours at a time. It requires a lot of energy and the evening hours at higher elevations can keep them cooler after temperatures drop.
They can move more safely in the darkness of night when there are fewer predators active, too!
Night migration also occurs to reduce the amount of energy needed to fly. This is especially true for large birds like geese and ducks.
Wild birds which migrate at night include the Swainson’s Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, White-throated Swift, Blackpoll Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Conclusion: What Birds Fly at Night
Now that you’ve learned more about why some birds are awake at night, fly at night, and migrate at night, you’ll be able to appreciate these nocturnal birds even more! Keep your eyes and ears open for them the next time you’re out and about at night. Who knows, maybe you’ll even see an owl or hear them hoot!