Do Birds Fly At Night?

Have you ever been trying to go to sleep at night, and yet you can still hear birds tweeting outside. Most birds are asleep at night, however not all of them. So you may be wondering what these birds get up to at night.

Ornithologists have been collecting data for years on birds’ nocturnal habits. Well, this article will explain if birds fly at night and which birds you may see flying at night. 

Diurnal VS Nocturnal Birds

Most birds we see are active during the day and then sleep at night like humans. These species of birds are known as diurnal birds. While the birds we see at night are known as nocturnal, because they are more active when everyone else is asleep. 

Sleeping is a very important but also scary thing for any bird. This is because where they choose to sleep and when they choose to sleep will depend if they will survive or not. All birds have little tricks to keep themselves and their young safe from predators while they are sleeping.

Some birds will sleep in bird boxes or up in high trees and they can be seen very close to the tree trunk. These two options provide birds shelter from the weather.

The tree trunk also provides warmth for the birds. This is due to the fact that the tree trunk retains heat from the sun from that day. Also if prey tries to climb the tree, the vibrations on the tree trunk will alert the birds so they can then fly away and escape. 

While water birds such as flamingos or ducks will sleep either in or on the water. If a predictor tries to attack, the splashing sounds and vibrations created in the water will alert the birds that danger is coming. While also these birds sleep in bigger flocks, than being alone, so then they have advantage in numbers against prey attacks.

Which Birds Are Nocturnal?

About 30% of North American birds can be seen flying at night. These birds complete a range of tasks that diurnal birds have completed during the day. These birds include:

  • Owls
  • Poorwills
  • Ashy storm-petrels
  • Woodcocks
  • Night-herons
  • Pauraques
  • Frogmouths
  • Nightjars

You may not be surprised by some of the birds on this list. However if you are outside at night or trying to get to sleep and can hear some bird activity, you can guess that it will be one of the birds from this list above.

Why Do Birds Fly At Night?

You may be wondering why we have nocturnal birds and diurnal birds. Some species of birds don’t have control over their sleeping schedule, it is just programmed into them to sleep during the day and be active at night.

While some birds’ body clocks wake up in the really early hours of the morning and go to bed in the late afternoon. This is why different birds are active and asleep at different points in the day. 

Nocturnal birds don’t do anything really that different from birds that are awake during the day. So at night you will see nocturnal birds such as owls flying as they are looking for food, for themselves and their nest of young (if they have one).

Also you can see them doing their courtship rituals and preening themselves. They fly at night because it is better for them, as they have more chance of finding and catching food.  

However, another reason why you may see birds flying at night is because they have been distrubed. If something or someone has ditrurbed a sleeping bird, then they will fly away and try to find somewhere safe for them to get through the rest of the night.

However if a prey has distrubed a flock of birds, while they are panicking and running away. There is a high chance that they will disturb other birds nearby. Although the flock will keep making noise until they know all the flock is up and out of the prey’s way. Then the flock can all fly away together to find somewhere safe to spend the night together.

Birds That Migrate At Night

Although some birds that aren’t nocturnal, can be seen migrating at night. Migrating is a dangerous thing for some birds and takes a lot of energy. You will see birds migrate from different countries as the seasons change. Some birds have a summer and a winter home. It is a survival instinct that means they can survive all year long. 

Birds migrate to different places where it will be warmer for them, so there will be plenty of food for them to survive. Migrating birds fly between heights of 5,000 and 20,000 feet. However for smaller birds migrating is a lot more difficult.

Not only is it demanding on themselves but they still need to be aware of prey in the skies following and watching them. 

Hence some smaller birds fly at night under the cover of darkness to keep them safe. They use the stars to navigate where they are going. Also flying non-stop uses a lot of energy which can create a lot of heat. Therefore, flying at night keeps the birds cooler. Some night time migrating birds can include:

  • Warblers
  • Sparrows
  • Thrushes
  • Buntings
  • Cowbirds
  • Ducks

Other Bird Night Time Activities

At night there is a chance that you can hear birds singing and there are two reasons why you might hear birds singing at night. They are either telling other birds where their territory is or they are trying to attract a mate. 

Birds that sing at night to tell other birds where their territory is, do it then so more birds can hear them. At night it is naturally a lot quieter, so some birds start singing as they know that their call will be heard over a great distance. 

However, singing at night also means more birds can hear each other. This is a great way to attract a mate too. While putting off competitors, who may try to win the affections of the same bird. It isn’t uncommon to hear birdsong at night and it isn’t just from nocturnal birds either.

Some diurnal birds are active at night as that is the best time for them to forage for food. This can be for a number of reasons. The main one being that the food that they are searching for just isn’t available during the day.

For example, certain seabirds feed on fish and squid at night, as that is the best time to hunt for them. Also hunting at night for some birds is easier, as they don’t have competition with more aggressive species for the same food. 


Birds do fly at night for various different reasons. There are some species of bird that are nocturnal, so they can be seen flying and hunting at night, while everyone else is asleep.

Some diurnal birds are sometimes seen flying at night for other reasons, like migrating. This is because migrating at night is a lot safer for smaller species of birds, than doing it in the day. A lot less birds are active at night, but they all have perfect eyesight for them to be able to fly safely at night.