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Do Birds Fly At Night? Or What Do They Do At Night?

moon at night

In the day, it’s common to see birds in flight. Look up and there might be a gull flapping through the sky, or a vulture or hawk wheeling high overhead.

A flock of starlings zip by and other birds are on the move. No doubt about it, birds love to use their wings!

But what about at night? Do birds also fly at night?

See this article to learn the answers and find out which birds fly at night!


Why Do Some Birds Fly During The Night While Others Don’t?

In general, there are nocturnal and diurnal species.

Noctural (active in night) species fly at night and other birds don’t. However, there are a lot of exceptions to that rule. Although diurnal (active in day) bird species sleep during the night, given the right circumstances, quite a few can also fly at night.

For example, to escape a nocturnal predator, any bird startled during the night can suddenly fly away. Many also migrate at night, but for the most part, most diurnal birds avoid flying at night.

Since they are very active during the day and get all of their food during daylight, they need that time to rest up.

Boreal Owl

Some nocturnal birds are mostly only active during the night.

For most diurnal birds, it’s also less safe to fly around at night. Since they can’t see as well at night, they could crash into vegetation or roadside wires.

Also, they don’t see predators as well as they do during the day. At night, it would be much easier for an owl, cat, or other nocturnal predator to see a flying a bird and sneak up on it.

Related: Where do birds go at night?

To avoid flying at night, small birds like Northern Cardinals and chickadees pick a good, safe spot to sleep. It’s much safer to stay put in one spot than to waste energy and put themselves at risk by flying around.


Do Only Nocturnal Birds Fly During The Night?

Not all birds avoid flying at night. There are species that routinely fly at night, even more so than during the day. These birds tend to be nocturnal species like owls, and nightjars like the Common Nighthawk.

These birds fly at night simply because they are more adapted to using this part of the day. The nighttime is when owls are active so, naturally, they fly more often at night.

They can glide and silently flap over open fields while foraging for mice, swoop down onto prey from a perch, or chase other owls away.

Common Nighthawks constantly fly high overhead in the night sky as they catch flying insects with their wide mouths. The Eastern Whip-Poor-Will and other nightjars also catch insects in flight, usually after flying from a perch.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are mainly active during the night

Black-crowned Night-Herons are named after their nocturnal tendencies, but they do move around during the day too.

We can also see some other nocturnal, or semi-nocturnal birds flying at night. For example, night-herons and other heron species frequently call from the dark as they fly through the night sky. They are usually moving to and from wetlands where they feed.

We can also see this with some gull species. In some places, flocks of Ring-billed Gulls are commonly seen flying at night as they move between feeding areas.


During Migration

Migration marks a time when many birds are active at night. To avoid predators, quite a few birds fly through the night sky. Most small migrants like warblers, thrushes, Indigo Buntings, and cuckoos migrate many hours through the night, high overhead.

As it turns out, many also migrate during the day, perhaps in some places more than others. However, to avoid the many Merlins, Peregrine Falcons, and Sharp-shinned Hawks that are on the prowl during the day, small birds move as much as they can in the safety of the dark night.

Most species do not migrate during the night

Most species do not migrate during the night but there are some exceptions.

There are also birds that migrate just as much during the day as during the night. This includes sandpipers and other shorebirds, and small ducks like Green-winged Teal.

Whether the birds migrate during the day or primarily at night, if they run into bad weather, they tend to suddenly fly down and take cover. Although migrants want to cover as much ground as possible, they don’t want to fly in hazardous conditions.

Migrant birds that do not fly at night are Broad-winged Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and other raptors. Unlike small songbirds, raptors much prefer to fly on warm and sunny days when they don’t have to constantly flap their big wings.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why don’t you see birds flying at night?

You don’t see birds flying at night because most small birds are sleeping. There are owls and some other birds that fly at night but they are just hard to see in the dark.

Are birds scared at night?

Yes, small birds can be scared to move and fly around at night. It makes them vulnerable to nocturnal predators.

How long do birds sleep?

Birds can sleep from six to even twelve hours. However, they sleep on and off, throughout the night.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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