Most birds are diurnal. They are active during the day and sleep at night.
A few birds are nocturnal (i.e., they are active at night and are resting during the day).
Some birds fly all night during long migrations over open water but are diurnal most of the time.
In this article, we will introduce you to some of the 10 most common birds that fly at night.
You may not see them, but you may be able to hear them.
You may observe the difference they make in your backyard environment even if you never see them in flight.
Let’s start with a bird that makes an unmistakable announcement of its presence at night.
If there is a barn owl on your property, you may never see it, but you won’t forget the unforgettable sound it makes.
If you do see a barn owl at night, it may appear all white.
In good lighting, they are white on the face and body and under the wings, and buff on the head, back, and upper side of the wings.
Barn owls nest and roost, as their name suggests, in barns.
They also make their homes in abandoned buildings, cavities inside trees, and dense trees.
You might see them gliding silently back and forth over the ground, looking for small animals to eat.
Barn owls screech to communicate with each other.
You can encourage them to live on your property by building them a nesting box that you place in an elevated location in a barn or shed with easy access to the outdoors.
Barn owls range across all but the northernmost sections of the continental United States southward into Mexico, Cuba, and Central America. They do not fly south for the winter, even in cold-weather climates.
Nightingales are small birds known for their beautiful songs. It has one of the most complex songs in nature.
But only the males sing the nightingale song, and only when they are looking for a mate.
These birds are most common in Europe, in Central Asia across Mongolia, and a band across sub-Saharan Africa, but they have been introduced in small numbers to North America.
They mostly fly at night, but the male sings all day during the late spring mating season.
Nightingales like to stay inside thorny thickets. They might occasionally venture into a rose bush.
The whip-poor-will is a unique bird that is found in North and Central America and has its own distinctive song.
It’s name is an onomatopoeic representation of the sound it makes, making this bird truly one-of-a-kind.
Living in dry forests with sparse underbrush and lots of open space for foraging seeds and insects, these birds lay their eggs so they will hatch on a full moon.
This makes it easier for the parents to find food for their young at night, when many of their predators are sleeping.
You might see a nightingale when you are hiking through the woods at night. It will not defend its nest.
It will fly away from its nest when you pass within about 3 feet (a meter) of it.
Sometimes whip-poor-wills raise their young in two nests close enough to each other to make feeding easier, sparing some of their young if one nest is attacked by a predator.
Below is a video with the Whippoorwill Call in Central North Carolina
Yellow warblers are bright yellow birds a little less than 5 inches (127 mm) long.
They fly at night to migrate from their summer homes in willows, alders, and cottonwoods along flowing streams to their winter homes in the mangrove forests of Central America.
Flying at night helps these brightly colored birds avoid predators such as hawks.’
You are most likely to become aware of a yellow warbler by its song.
You can find a very small population of yellow warblers with distinctive red streaks in a mangrove forest in extreme South Texas.
Mockingbirds have dull gray feathers, but they have colorful personalities.
If you hear a string of 10 or 15 birds constantly, well, mocking other birds, flying around with their legs stretched out to make them fly away, you could have a covey of mockingbirds.
Mockingbirds make a conspicuous display on fence posts, bird baths, or feeders to chase other birds out of their territory.
They prefer to belt out their mating calls between midnight and 4 a.m., the most annoying times possible for the humans who take care of them.
Black-Crowned Night Heron
Black-crowned night herons are found all over the world, from Argentina to Alabama, from Ottawa to Afghanistan, and even East Asia and Australia.
These amazingly hardy birds are fascinating to watch. They have a black crown and back. The rest of their feathers are gray or white.
They have two or three long plumes on the backs of their heads that stand up in salute when they greet another bird.
They also stand up during courtship rituals. They are stocky birds that waddle around on short yellow legs.
You won’t have trouble finding black-crowned night herons.
They are very noisy birds. Their kwok kwok kwok call (finished with a rattle) can be heard the length of a football field away.
Conveniently, colonies of these birds spend the summer at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., as visitors, not as zoo animals.
There is also a colony of black-crowned night herons that spends every winter at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, and they live year-round on the shores of San Francisco Bay.
Watch the birds stand at the water’s edge, waiting to ambush prey.
Killdeer can be active during the day or during the night.
They get their name from their distinctive call, which sounded something like “kill deer” to the early American settlers who named it.
Killdeer range from southeastern Alaska across Canada, south across the continental United States to Mexico.
They sometimes fly to the West Indies and even South America.
Killdeer like to wade in shallow water at night when the moon is full of catching insects and crustaceans.
When threatened, a female killdeer may lower its head, raise its tail, and spread out its wings to charge an intruder to save its young.
You will find these birds near the shore in shallow water or on grassy beaches.
Millions of birdwatchers welcome red robins as the first new arrivals every spring.
But did you know that robins often fly at night when they are headed north to their summer homes?
You are more likely to hear robin songs than to see robins in flight at night.
If a colony of robins establishes itself in your backyard, you may hear them “sleep singing.”
Robins communicate at night if street sounds and other noises caused by human activity drown them out during the day.
Like other birds, they also sometimes sing in their sleep to practice their calls and keep their memories fresh.
This phenomenon is a little like humans talking in their sleep after a long day.
Also read: How to Attract Robins to Your Backyard?
Few birds spend more time in the air than chimney swifts.
These birds can’t perch. They have to cling to vertical surfaces, like cliffs, trees, and chimneys.
You are most likely to recognize chimney swifts by their silhouette.
Look for them flying through the air, catching insects. You can also identify chimney swifts by their distinctive song.
Yellow Breasted Chats
In broad daylight, it is easy to identify a yellow-breasted chat. They are olive-green above with, as their name suggests, a yellow breast.
Their faces are gray. They have white eye-rings that look like eyeglasses. They also have a white mustache stripe.
At night, you can identify yellow-breasted chats by their calls. You are most likely to encounter chats under power lines and near dense brush,
Nighthawks range between Canada and Brazil over the course of a year.
During the day, they conceal themselves by lying along a branch instead of over it, as most other birds do.
Their feathers form a camouflage pattern that takes some practice to detect.
The nighthawk has a distinctive call, and it can sound like a truck roaring by if it dives after prey near you.
The males may dive as close as 3 feet (a meter) from the birdwatchers observing them.
They move so quickly that even in good lighting, you are only likely to see a flash of white light. You are most likely to hear nighthawks just before dawn and in the early evening.
How to Go Birdwatching at Night
Most of us think of birdwatching as a daytime activity, but there is a world of birds you can enjoy at night, too.
Not just the birds we have listed above, but also bats and moths are out and about once the sun has gone down.
Here are some simple rules for enjoying bird watching at night.
Know Your Local Birds
Do a little research so you know which birds in your area fly after dusk. Learn their calls, and familiarize yourself with their behavior.
Ask your local bird-watching associations about the best places for viewing the birds that interest you most.
Be sure to share your findings with other birdwatchers the next day.
The number one item on the checklist for nighttime bird watching is bug spray.
In most parts of the United States and even much of Canada, you need a potent insect repellent for nighttime birding in comfort.
Be prepared for temperature changes. Temperatures go down as the night progresses. Humidity may increase, too.
And, of course, you need a flashlight and a first aid kit. Here is an optional but highly desirable part of your nighttime birding kit:
Nighttime birding is a great time to try out some infrared glasses.
Try out your night vision camera to take pictures of birds and bats at night. Or take amazing photos of butterflies resting for the night.
Night Owl Pro Nexgen Night Vision Binoculars enable you to see in total darkness.
These binoculars are pricey (about US $700 in discount stores), but they enable you to see birds at a distance that keeps them feeling safe.
Taking a nighttime hike in the snow? Wear white. Tromping through the woods on a steamy summer night?
Wear camouflage clothing, even when it is dark.
Birding is not a great time for long conversations with your bird-watching friends.
Save your socializing with humans for sharing your adventures after you get back from your nighttime bird-watching adventure.
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