Do Birds Fly At Night? [Surprising ANSWER! + FAQs]


barn owl perched on tree

So we all know birds fly around all day. But if you’re like me, you may have wondered one thing: “Do birds fly around at night?” I was so curious about this that I did my own research and came up with an answer. Here’s what I found:

Birds do fly around at night. However, nocturnal birds are the majority of birds that fly at night as compared to diurnal birds. Nocturnal birds like nighthawks fly around at night to hunt and forage, whereas diurnal birds like sparrows only fly around at night when threatened or on migration flights.

There are a few reasons why birds fly around at night. I will discuss all these reasons in this article, so stick around. Read on for more!

Why Do Birds Fly Around At Night?

black hawk soaring

Nocturnal birds mostly fly around at night to do their own daily activities such as foraging, hunting, mating, etc.

For diurnal birds, as it is not typically normal to see them flying around at night, they only fly at night for two reasons: (1) escaping from threats and (2) migration.

Escaping From Threats

One of the main reasons you would see birds flying around at night would be to escape from threats! Here’s an explanation:

Birds that are awake during the daytime (diurnal birds) are the ones that you will see flying around at night to escape from threats!

Diurnal birds tend to sleep in small bouts of time at night and will be startled awake by a loud rustling noise or to the threat of an incoming predator.

In fact, some birds sleep with just a single eye open! This is known as unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS), which allows one side of their brain to stay alert, while the other half stays asleep. 

This allows for them to quickly flee by flying away when a threat arises!

Migration

white and black birds

Migration is one of the biggest reasons why any bird will fly around at night!

Both diurnal and nocturnal birds take their migratory flights at night, but this depends on whether a daytime flight or nighttime flight conserves more energy.

Despite this, most birds still take on their migratory flight at night. This is due to the many advantages that it can bring to a bird.

Advantages of a Night Migratory Flight:

  1. The stars and moon assist the birds’ in their navigation to their destinations.
  2. The night air is cooler and is more stable for longer flights, especially for birds with smaller wingspans that require more effort to keep up.
  3. Lesser bird predatory attacks.
  4. Some scientists have shown that some migratory birds have a mutation in a protein in their eyes called the CRY4 cryptochrome which enhances the efficiency of their vision at night.

Witness a massive songbird night migration flight in the video below!

Here’s a video showing night migration flights of birds for 24 hours during migration season. Each freeze frame is a 10-minute interval.

This was done by Cornell University researchers:

Examples Of Birds Which Fly At Night

The tendency for birds to fly around at night depends on whether a bird is nocturnal or diurnal.

A nocturnal bird typically is awake during the night but asleep during the day, has very keen senses of hearing and eyesight that help it adapt to the low-light environments that they are in.

One interesting side fact to know is that they are also typically highly camouflaged in their plumage so that they can minimize detection from predation during the daytime. 

Nocturnal birds are the ones that you would most likely expect to see flying around in the late hours of the night.

Examples of nocturnal birds include Nightjars, some Owls, Night Herons, Nightingales, Night Parrots, and Nighthawks.

Here’s a short video of some nocturnal birds you might know:

A diurnal bird is simply the opposite of a nocturnal bird. It is typically awake during the day and sleeps during the nighttime.

They typically do not have such keen senses as their nocturnal friends as they do most of their activities during the day when it’s easier to detect prey and predators.

This type of bird is not typically seen flying around at night, but they are still seen at dawn and dusk, during migration periods, and when they are threatened by a predator.

Examples of diurnal birds are Songbirds, Thrushes, Warblers, and Kingfishers.

The Ability To Fly At Night

Good Eyesight

close up shot it an owl

Okay, so you know that it’s mostly nocturnal birds that fly around at night. However, the first thing that comes to mind when flying at night is the bird’s ability to SEE at night.

If the poor bird can’t seem to see his way through the night, then there’s no point in flying and crashing soon after.

The most popular nocturnal bird that everyone should know is probably the Barn Owl! Owls are active at night and they perform their daily activities such as hunting all at night.

As such, their eyes are highly adapted to capture and process light.

If there were no such mechanism, then owls would find it hard to spot prey and find even more difficulty simply flying around without crashing!

Owls’ eyes are specially adapted with large corneas and pupils with a binocular vision that allows a LOT of light to enter their eyes to focus on a plane called the retina (the back of the eye that faces forward).

The retina of an owl has a high proportion of light-sensitive rod cells that allow it to see in the dark.

In addition, they have another layer of tissue that covers their eyes with oil droplets, giving it a bright reflective sheen when you shine a light at their eyes.

This helps them see more in the dark so they won’t go crashing around when they fly!

Here, check out this video of an owl using its supreme eyesight to hunt its prey in the dark:

Compared to our human eyes, they can see far more than we can. As their eyes are highly adaptable, they can adjust their pupils to suit daytime and nighttime brightness. So they are able to fly both during the day and in the nighttime.

Dead Silent Flight Sounds

Nocturnal birds have great eyesight but they also need to be dead silent during the night. Why? That’s because lots of bird prey will rely mostly on sense of hearing to determine an incoming predator.

Nocturnal birds have adapted against that in their completely-silent flight sounds.

If you were to compare the flight sounds of diurnal birds such as birds of prey and nocturnal birds, you will see a STARK DIFFERENCE that even baffles experts.

Have a look at the video below of the flight sound comparison between a Pigeon, a Peregrine Falcon, and a Barn Owl:

Amazing isn’t it?!

Experts in the video have explained that the decreased sound in the wingbeats of the barn owl is attributed to its small body size and a large wingspan that allow it to glide easily through the air.

This enables owls to fly around silently in the night and hunt their prey without their prey noticing.

So technically, you wouldn’t really be able to hear owls flying right outside your home at night, but trust me, they are all around us!

Here’s another example of Nightjars flying around at dusk/dawn. Apart from their loud call, they do fly around really silently and swiftly too – mostly gliding around.

Final Thoughts

Now you know that birds do indeed fly around at night, but it’s just that we either don’t see or hear them!

It’s interesting to have found out all this information and I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about bird night flight!

Thank you for reading and happy birding!

My Recommended Birding Resources:

Hey there, Justin here!

Here’s a list of all my favorite resources, products, and all brands I trust and love.

Although some may be affiliate links, I will only recommend those that I think are of great value. Simply purchasing using the links helps to keep this blog running!

  • My Binoculars: The pair of binoculars that I personally use is the Celestron Nature DX 8×42 Binoculars. It’s a great budget pair for beginner birders. Highly valued for its price! Read my review here.
  • Safe Paint for Bird Baths: Not any paint can be used to paint bird baths. Links to all safe paint for bird baths are in this article I wrote!
  • Safe Sealers for Bird Baths: Not all sealers can be used to paint bird baths. Links to all sealers for bird baths are in this article I wrote!
  • Safe Paint for Bird Feeders: Special care needs to be taken to paint bird feeders with the right paint. Read more in the article here!
  • Safe Paint for Birdhouses: Not any paint can be used to paint birdhouses. Links to all safe paint for birdhouses are in this article I wrote!
  • Birding Apps: 2 of my favorite birding apps are Merlin Bird ID, and eBird Mobile! Merlin is great for tracking and identifying birds, and eBird Mobile is great to track the birds sighted when birding. Read a post about them here.
  • Birding Websites: I’ve compiled a list of links to my top 10 recommended birding websites in a blog post. Find the links here!
  • Birding Podcasts: Birding podcasts are a great way to learn about birds. Links to the top 8 that I recommend can be found here!

Alternatively, you can check out my resources page here where I’ve compiled all the links to the above!

Justin

Justin is a hobbyist birder that hopes to share his birding knowledge with the world. His favorite bird is the Large-tailed Nightjar and he really loves potato chips!

Recent Posts