Ever been woken up by some strange noise in the night? We know that owls hoot and sometimes screech in the night. But do other birds? In this post we will be looking at why birds sing and call at night and finding some examples of these eerie noises.
What are nocturnal birds?
Birds that are around in the day, feeding, socializing and mating are called diurnal.
Birds that do all that activity but during the nighttime dark hours are called nocturnal.
There is no definitive reason why some birds are nocturnal and some diurnal. All birds are a product of their evolution, environment and survival instincts. Nocturnal singing is essentially, just another part of their life.
Why do birds make noise at nighttime?
Birds call and sing at night for exactly the same reasons that birds to in the day. There are 4 main reasons why birds call and sing:
- to sound an alarm and warn other birds about potential predators
- to attract a mate
- to communicate with mates and chicks
- to defend their territory
Which birds call at night?
Owls are the quintessential nocturnal birds. They are the first we all think of and we probably all struggle to name any more. But there are several groups of birds that are more active at night. These are:
- Nightjars and Nighthawks
- Nocturnal Seabirds
- Some migrant birds
- Night Herons
In addition, there are members of families that are both diurnal and nocturnal and will sing at night. Classic examples of these are:
- Yellow-breasted Chat
- Northern Mockingbird
- Common Loon
Examples of nocturnal birds that sing or call
Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii)
The Common Poorwill is found in western states and is one of the real night birds and as such, it is hard to tell how common or rare they are. Researchers have found that they like open country and rocky foothills in semi-arid areas. They are an incredibly unusual bird, the only species to regularly enter a state of ‘torpor’. It does this during daylight hours and its system slows down as if in hibernation.
The Common Poorwill has a distinctive call (once you know what it is of course!). A two note repetitive, and not unpleasant, call that gives the bird its name. Listen below.
Barn Owl (Tyto alba/furcata)
The Barn Owl is one of the most widespread birds in the world and it is not often seen in the daylight. It is an incredibly striking bird with a heart shaped face and variable plumage from pale to deep tawny. Found more across the south of continental America, it spends the daytime nesting in old buildings and tree hollows.
Another distinctive call for the Barn Owl, it is famed for its hiss. It is the most unlike owl sound you can imagine! Hear it below.
This is one of the most widespread herons in the world. It is a rather nondescript gray and black bird that skulks around in marshes during the day. It can be found across the United States in any appropriate environment.
The call of the Black-crowned Night Heron sounds a bit like a demented chicken and you can listen to it below.
The Common Nighthawk is an attractive bird with really interesting oval eyes. While spread across the states (less common in the far southwest) it is irregularly seen but more so in the summer months.
This nighthawk is less nocturnal than others on our list and can be seen still hunting at dawn. In fact it is known as being crepuscular, meaning active at dawn and dusk. The call of the Common Nighthawk is a raspy beeping noise and, as usual, quite distinctive.
Which birds sing at night?
Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos)
The Northern Mockingbird is famed for singing at night. As it is a more urban bird, it is more likely to be heard than the passing calls of the owls and similar. It can be found across the whole of the continental United States with a concentration in the south east.
Mockingbirds have a huge range of songs in their repertoire, which they add to during their lives. They are expert mimics and can copy lots of manmade sounds. It is the young males without a mate that sing at night and the frequency seems to be dependent on the amount of light, with an increase in particular around the full moon.
The Limpkin is a rather unusual wading bird. It has the customary long legs used for hunting in shallow waters but its body looks more like an ibis and it has a heron like bill. It can be found in appropriate swampy environments in southeastern states.
While the Limpkin is active during the day, unpaired males call a lot at night and their eerie song has woken many a nearby sleeping child! The main concentration of Limpkin are in Florida and as it sings at night, it has been known to alarm residents the holidaymakers there.
The Yellow-breasted Chat is another unusual bird with a tanager like body and very long tail. While widespread across the U.S., it is uncommon and unlikely to be mistaken for any other bird.
Only the male birds sing and they have an incredible range of songs. In the clip below, there are at least 5 different tunes. Interestingly, this bird is like the others above in that it is so different, including from those in its own family.
The Great Northern Diver is also known as the Common Loon. It is found across the U.S. in any body of water. For obvious reasons it is less present in dry areas.
The song of the Common Loon is quite haunting. They hoot and yodel most often around breeding time and can go on all night.
Nocturnal birds sing and call for all the same reasons as those active in the day. However, it would seem that they tend to be quite unusual in appearances and vocal behavior. We have only been able to touch on that in this post but I hope it has piqued your interest.
Our examples of birds that sing at night and their noises show that they are quite distinctive. Nights can be a scary time and the eerie calls of some of the birds can be alarming. While it can be inconvenient to focus on them at night, if you can record or note their calls, they should be identifiable.
To sum it up – night-singing birds do so for the same reasons as diurnal birds do. However, there are no explanations as to why their sounds are so weird and eerie!
How do I find out which bird is singing at night?
Best advice is to record the call so you can try to identify it during more civilized hours.
What bird sings at night in Hawaii?
This is likely to be one of the birds we didn’t include in our list – nocturnal seabirds. In Hawaii is the Hawaiian Petrel and it has a particularly haunting call that is only heard at night.
Are there any birds of prey that are nocturnal?
It is easy to forget that owls are actually birds of prey. They may look all cute and fluffy but they are serious hunters and the bigger species like the Great Horned Owl can be quite vicious.