Do you ever find yourself thinking: Can birds fly at night? While we are peacefully napping in the comfort of our homes, what do these birds do in the after-hours? Well, the answer is,
Many of the bird species rest like us during nighttime. While, some species remain primarily active during this time for foraging, hunting, mating, and other necessary activities to survive in the dark night such as owls, nighthawks, frogmouth, and nightjars, commonly known as nocturnal birds.
Now it is essential to know that diurnal birds can also remain active at night if their rest is hampered, or they are most likely searching for food, establishing their territory, or searching for a mate.
So, In this article, we will attempt to answer all the questions you might have regarding the night-time activities of nocturnal birds.
Why Do Birds Fly at Night?
You have heard of or seen owls, right? They are a common example of nocturnal birds. But did you know that not all owls are nocturnal? Most of them are but there are some exceptions as well.
Here’s something interesting: diurnal owls also exist in this world such as the northern hawk owl, burrowing owl, and snowy owl.
Nocturnal owls remain very active during the night. They usually fly this time in search of food. Owls have excellent eyesight and hearing. They can find out the exact location of the prey by spotting them from a large distance or hearing their slightest movement in the grass. They usually hunt mice, earthworms, woodrats, and even small squirrels.
Now it is important to note that owls are not the only birds flying at night.
Have you heard of the term “Nightjars”? Probably not, they are a group of 60-70 species of birds and they are very common in tropical regions. They are nocturnal insectivorous birds that remain super active at night. They usually look for food while flying in the after-hours.
Nightjars use camouflage techniques to catch their prey effectively. They have brown and gray feathers which are excellent for this purpose. They’re quite vocal as well. You can hear their calls during the night if these birds are nearby which gives their presence away.
Aside from these two groups, some other diurnal birds can be seen flying at night. In certain situations, diurnal birds go out for various reasons at night, for example, looking for food when the competition is less, or certain food is unavailable or hard to get during the day.
what kind of birds fly at night?
You can often hear some of the birds calling at night, but mostly their nighttime activities remain hidden from us. You might catch a glimpse if you are outside at certain times.
We’ll now disclose which species you might spot if you are also out at night like them.
Before we dive in, have you seen the post about If Birds Can Fly in the Rain? Check it out!
This is a species of the Nightjar group we mentioned earlier. They hunt at night from the ground or fly up in the air to catch aerial insects.
Want to hear an interesting fact about them? They often chant their own names, so if you hear a sound saying “Whip-poor-will” at night, it’s them.
This is a species related to the Nightjars. You might confuse them with owls for their visual appearance. They collect food during the daytime as well but nocturnal insects like moths, slugs, etc. are their favorite. So they fly to hunt at night.
This list will be incomplete without owls. Owls can be active both at dusk as well as in the darkest hours of the night. Owls usually fly around looking for food during this time. Do not get scared if you hear an eerie, raspy screeching sound at night, since there is a high possibility it is the owls making such noise, especially barn owls.
Another type is the great horned owl, which is a strictly nocturnal species and they even wade around in the water searching for prey, along with flying.
This migrating bird goes out for long trips at night. They usually go far away from breeding grounds to spend the winter somewhere else and this journey takes place at night.
At a glance, you’ll think these birds never even rest or sleep. They remain active during the day as well as at night. During nighttime, they try to attract potential mates and defend their territories.
They have a tendency to flow slowly in circles around their territory to harass or drive away any potential intruders.
This bird is found in South America and they spend the day in caves and then leave at night to find fruit using echolocation. They are the only nocturnal fruit-eating birds.
7. Night Heron
These stocky herons are mostly nocturnal. They fly from their roosts to wetland feeding areas at night to hunt frogs, fish, and crustaceans. Their large eyes help them to see well in low light.
Many species of seabirds such as petrels, shearwaters, and specific albatrosses, are active at night or when it’s getting dark. They make this smart move to stay safe from predators while they travel between where they breed and where they find food in the vast oceans.
On the other hand, seagulls, terns, and cormorants are mostly active in the daytime rather than at night.
What are the abilities of the birds that fly at night?
Birds that stay active at night have special abilities that make it easier for them to navigate in the dark. These include excellent eyesight and hearing, adaptations for finding food, strong navigation skills, and the ability to withstand cold temperatures.
Most nocturnal birds have sharp vision and hearing that helps them to easily detect prey even with little light. Some have special features that let them fit into their surroundings or move silently, making it easier to catch prey.
These nighttime species eat insects, and their bodies are designed to snatch bugs right out of the air. They’re also well-suited to cope with chilly nighttime temperatures.
So, all of these birds are pretty awesome at finding their way around, and some can even use the sun, moon, or stars as their GPS!
How do birds navigate at night?
As we mentioned earlier, birds capable of flying at night have excellent navigation skills that help during this journey. These birds usually use two natural components as their compass.
The first one is the star patterns, followed by Earth’s magnetic field. Some birds like Robins are believed to have specialized organs that enable them to sense the magnetic field and set their direction of flight accordingly.
Why do birds migrate at night?
Have you ever wondered why certain birds prefer to take flight at night? Many species like sparrows, cuckoos, and flycatchers are nocturnal migrants. They gain certain benefits from traveling under the cover of darkness.
Without daylight, predators like hawks and falcons can’t spot them as easily. The cooler and calmer night air enables smoother and more efficient flight.
Their navigational abilities also get a boost at night – they can use the moon and stars as guides. And there’s less bumpy air and strong upward drafts to deal with when it’s calm at night.
Some birds even migrate together in huge flocks, gaining safety in numbers. Scientists think this night migration might also help them avoid overheating during long trips.
What dangers do birds face while flying at night?
As convenient as it sounds, flying at night is also becoming dangerous for birds. Street lights and lights in the buildings might make them confused and disoriented, causing them to crash and die or get severely injured.
Another potential concern is the lack of available food during the journey. Now that a vast portion of their natural habitats are lost, they are at risk of starvation and often become unable to continue the journey.
How do birds avoid obstacles when flying in the dark?
Birds are able to fly around at night and avoid crashing into things, even when it’s too dark to see very well. Now you might be curious about how birds fly throughout the night while escaping obstacles!
Well, the birds rely a lot on their other senses besides vision when navigating in the dark. Their hearing, for example, can pick up subtle sounds that provide cues about their surroundings. Many nocturnal birds like owls have specialized feathers that help channel sound into their ears.
Birds also use their sense of touch to feel air currents on their wings and body as they fly. This helps them detect the presence of nearby objects. Some scientists think birds may even use magnetic senses or their ability to detect faint odors to orient themselves when visibility is poor.
When a bird detects an obstacle in their path through one of their senses, it can quickly adjust the angles of its wings or shift its weight to smoothly go around the barrier. They also seem to have a mental map of familiar areas which helps them navigate in darkness.
Now you know that birds often fly and move around at night, but we don’t usually realize it unless we are also outside in an open place!
We hope this article has satisfied all your queries regarding the nighttime routine of birds that are capable of flying at night.
Is it normal to see a bird at night?
For nocturnal birds, it is perfectly normal. Other species are not seen active during the night unless their resting is disrupted somehow.
What birds are awake at night?
Many birds remain awake at night, including Mockingbirds, Thrush, whip-poor-will, Robin, Night Herons, Nightingales, Owls, and many more.
Do birds fly at night or is it a bat?
Birds and bats both can fly at night. You can understand the difference by looking at the flight pattern.
Do birds sleep in the same place every night?
Most bird species do not sleep in the same place. They usually find a comfortable and safe resting place, unless they have their own private nestle.
I’m Shajid Rahman, founder of Birding Outside. I share my birding knowledge through my website to help others learn about birds. I use simple language so it’s easy to understand. My goal is to get more people excited about birds like I am by teaching about these special creatures. I want to spread bird love!