Where Do Birds Go at Night?

Are you a bird enthusiast? If you’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing the magnificent flight of a bald eagle, you understand how it can deeply move you to see it glide through the sky.

Of course, the presence of cardinals and bluebirds flocking around a backyard bird feeder can bring just as much delight. Their elegant and vibrant forms can brighten even the gloomiest of days.

If you spend a significant amount of time observing birds, you quickly learn the optimal times to catch them in action. Backyard bird feeders, for instance, tend to attract the most visitors early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Once the Sun sets, you will likely witness a decline in bird activity. Unless they are nocturnal species like owls, most birds seem to vanish with the fading sunlight. But where do they all go?

Most birds are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day, especially in the early morning and late afternoon. Similar to humans who are active during the day, most birds dedicate their nighttime hours to one goal: sleep.

For birds, sleeping is a necessary yet perilous activity. While asleep, birds become vulnerable to attacks from various predators. To ensure they get the rest they need, birds must find sleeping spots that offer some protection from their enemies.

For many birds, this involves staying close to the areas where they spend their days. Instead of remaining exposed on the ground or a low branch, birds often opt for higher branches near the tree trunk for added warmth.

Birds also seek out holes, cavities, and other crevices in trees to hide in. If a hole is large enough, multiple birds may squeeze in together to benefit from each other’s body heat. Man-made birdhouses can also serve as a safe refuge at night. Other birds may choose to conceal themselves among the thick, dense branches of evergreen trees.

Water birds, such as herons, flamingos, ducks, and geese, typically remain in the water at night. Whether standing or floating while they sleep, the water provides them with the safety they seek. Any approaching predator will create waves that alert sleeping birds through sound and vibrations.

Meanwhile, other birds like blackbirds may roost together in large flocks at night. They find safety in numbers and often take turns keeping watch throughout the night, monitoring for potential threats.

Occasionally, you may hear or see birds at night, and they aren’t always nocturnal birds searching for food. Sometimes diurnal birds utilize the nighttime hours, which tend to be quieter and calmer, for activities like migration and seeking mates.

Try It Out

Are you ready to observe some birds? Gather a few friends or family members who are willing to join you in trying out the following activities:

  • Take some time during the upcoming week to observe the different types of birds that live near your home. You can do this by sitting in your backyard, going for a walk, or observing bird feeders in your area. Create a list of the various birds you see. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the birds, you can use online tools such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to help identify them.
  • Once you have an idea of the birds that live near you, try to determine where they go at night. Go outside after dark and look for the same birds you saw during the daytime. Can you find them? Where are they? Start observing the birds late in the afternoon, close to dusk, to see where they go. If you live near a wooded area, spend some time there with an adult friend or family member after dark. Can you see or hear any evidence of birds nearby?
  • Some birds are challenging to find during the day because they are primarily active at night. Are there any nocturnal birds near your house? Have you ever witnessed any signs of owls or other nocturnal birds? Why do you think some birds choose to be active only at night? Think of a few possible explanations for their nocturnal behavior and then conduct your own research on the internet to see if your hypotheses were correct. Enjoy!

Useful Sources

  • http://birding.about.com/od/birdbehavior/a/Birds-At-Night.htm
  • http://www.wvdnr.gov/wildlife/magazine/Archive/06winter/AvianQuestions.pdf
  • http://www.birdwatching.com/tips/wherebirdssleep.html

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