Can Birds See At Night? + Examples Of Birds That Do and Don’t

Can birds see at night? The simple answer is yes; however, we will detail which species have better night vision and why.

All birds, except for some blind like the Kiwi, can see at night; however, some have advanced anatomical features that give them better night vision.

A bird’s eyes are larger than those of other animals compared to their body size. Birds have a better peripheral vision; their eyes are positioned more towards the side of their head than on the front of their face.

The exceptions are raptors, owls, and other species with more forward-facing eyes. In particular, having such a wide field of vision is critical for those birds that are ground dwellers and ground foragers.

For instance, they can see a predator ahead of time. Eagles are the type of apex predator that hunts during the daytime.

Further, since birds have a higher concentration of photoreceptors, they can see various colors. However, we do not know exactly how their brain interprets the colors; speculation is all.

Meanwhile, many parrots don’t like specific colors; for example, my bird Coco does get nervous if I show her something purple.

anatomy of the avian eye

The Anatomy Of A Bird’s Eye

Birds have upper and lower eyelids and a nictitating membrane (third eyelid). Birds can produce tears from the lacrimal gland and the Harderian gland.

As we mentioned earlier, the eyeball of a bird is large compared to the size of the skull. There is a separation between eye orbit by the interorbital septum, a broad and thin bony structure.

A bird’s eyeball, unlike mammals, is not spherical. They will fall into one of these three types: flat, globose, or tubular, depending on their species. Most diurnal birds will have flat eyes, whereas nocturnal birds of prey will have tubular eyes. We find the globular eyes in diurnal birds, including those with broader heads, like Passeriformes, many parrots, and some birds of prey.

avian eye shapes -Can birds see at night?

The nocturnal birds can see at night with laser focus because many of them have binocular vision.

Answering the question “can birds see at night?” ties to the anatomy of the bird’s eye.

Understanding Photoreceptors, Rods, And Cones In The Eyes Of Birds – Can birds see at night?

Rods and cones are receptors in the eye for color vision and seeing in low light conditions.

Humans have three types of cones, so we see a broad range of colors.

Birds have four types (tetrachromatic) or five types of cones (pentachromatic), whereas humans and other mammals have three types of cones. Some birds even have what we call double cones. Double cones are two cell attached to each other, which communicate with each other, and the double cones have other functions that are not understood at this time.

double cones avian eye

Not only do birds have more cones than us but they also have a unique highly vascular, pigmented structure in their vitreous chamber called the pecten oculi. It is responsible for 30 functions and contributes to the bird’s excellent vision.

Another unique feature about the bird’s eye is an oil droplet inside each cone. Additionally, the oil droplet is thought to enhance the bird’s vision while creating a sharper image.

Nocturnal And Diurnal Birds Have Very Different Night Vision

Nocturnal Birds

Birds have a very deep fovea in the back of their eye which has twice the number of cones per square millimeter as a human. However, a nocturnal bird will have more rods than cones, allowing them to see in very fine detail.

Nocturnal birds will have a tubular eyeball shape, giving them an advantage at nighttime.

A nocturnal bird does not detect UV light. However, the tapetum lucidum is a reflective layer that any light passing through the retina is reflected into it, thus increasing its efficiency. You can see their eyes shining, at night when you try to take a video or photo of the bird. This accounts for why many birds have excellent night vision and can see quite well even in dark places at night time!

11 Nocturnal Birds

Common birds that fly at night.

1. Owl – Owls have enormous eyes for their body mass. More importantly, an owl has binocular vision and can estimate distances easily.

2. Flamingos – After some researchers looked at the 24-hour cameras in a zoo enclosure, they saw that flamingos were active all night long. They prefer to forage in the evening.

3. Kiwi – Although the Kiwi are nocturnal birds, they have small eyes and poor eyesight.

5. Oilbirds – They are nocturnal and feed on the fruits of the palm oil tree.

6. Nightjars – Even though they nest on the ground, they are nocturnal birds. Frogmouths are part of this family of birds.

7. Kakapos – The Kakapos are nocturnal and have a life expectancy of over 90 years. In contrast, the African Grey Parrot lifespan is 45-75 years.

8. Night Parrot- A mysterious and elusive parrot native to Australia.

9. Ashy Storm Petrel – They spend most of their lives at sea and nest on small offshore islands.

10. Potoo – These birds are strictly nocturnal and have large eyes. They often camouflage themselves and hide in plain sight.

11. Swallow-tailed Gull – One of the only nocturnal gulls out there, they hunt for food all night long.

Diurnal Birds

Diurnal birds are the opposite of nocturnal birds. More importantly, they are active during the day and sleep at night. Diurnal birds have eyes that are adapted to seeing in daylight. A diurnal bird will have the globular or flat eye shape and not the tubular.

11 Diurnal Birds

1. Toucan – Most active late afternoon and night, they roost in a tree to sleep.

2. Swallow – The swallow is known for eating insects while in flight. They are primarily active from dawn to dusk and sleep at nighttime.

3. Heron – Most species of Heron are crepuscular feeders. They prefer to feed in the evenings, making them a crepuscular feeder. A Heron is not nocturnal but not completely diurnal either.

4. African Grey – An African grey daily prefers to sleep 12 hours and then forage for 12 hours. They both like to get up at dawn and begin foraging if you are talking about a Timneh African grey vs. a Congo.

5. Red-Billed Gulls are native New Zealand seagulls with a red bill, red feet, and a red ring around their eyes.

6. Hummingbird – These small birds love to feed during the day; on the other hand, the hummingbird moth is a night feeder. So if you see a creature that looks like a hummingbird eating at nighttime, it’s probably the hummingbird moth.

7. Pigeon – Pigeons sleep at night and are active during the day. The only time you will see pigeons flying at nighttime is if they are disturbed.

8. Kingfisher – Most Kingfisher species are diurnal; they prefer to roost alone on a tree branch to sleep. There is one species: the hook-billed kingfishers, which are nocturnal birds

9 Monk Parrot – These parrots live in enormous colonies, like the Greenwood Cemetary in Brooklyn, NY. They forage all day long while taking breaks to preen each other.

10 Woodpecker – A Woodpecker does not peck at nighttime. All of the various species of woodpeckers are diurnal, which means they sleep at night and peck during the day.

11 Eagles – groups of eagles (referred to as convocations) hunt during the day and sleep at night!

What’s The Difference Between Birds With Binocular And Monocular Vision Fields?

Binocular Vision in Birds

Can birds see at night?

Binocular vision is when both of the bird’s eyes can see the same image. Each image overlaps, and creates a 3D image, leading to stereoscopic vision. Owls have excellent visual acuity partly due to their binocular vision. Predatory birds like hawks, owls, and eagles with binocular vision have excellent depth perception. They need to focus on small things in the environment below to feed themselves. Many birds with binocular vision can see in the dark.

Monocular Vision in Birds

Most birds have a monocular vision as opposed to binocular vision. Think about a pigeon whose eyes are on the side of its head. Each eye will see a different set of images, giving the pigeon a more fantastic range of sight. A bird with eyes on the side of its head can see almost 360°, and the Woodcock is one of those birds with eyes that sit far on the side of its head—ultimately allowing the bird to see 360° without turning its head.

Which Birds Have The Best Night Vision?

Hands down, owls have the best night vision, with their tubular-shaped eyes to assist them. Owls have excellent binocular vision since they are birds of prey. All birds of prey will have forward-facing eyes to focus on their target. The forward-facing eyes give them a more excellent depth perception than a parrot. Can birds see at night? Yes, many can see at night but the majority see better in the daytime.

The great horned owl and barn owl are famous for their night vision due to the rods rather than cones in their eyes. The rods enable them to improve at nighttime since they are sensitive to dim lights. Owls can see much better than a human at night time.

What Other Birds Have Night Vision?

Bat Hawks, Frog Mouths, Night Jars, Storm Petrels, Night Herons, Little Penguin, American Woodcock, and many others.

Are Birds Blind At Night?

Many birds see better at night than in the daytime, due to their increased numbers of rods, tapetum lucidum, and unique eyeball shape. These diurnal birds can also see at night, just not as good as a nocturnal bird. One bird is nearly blin,d and that is the Kiwi; they have the narrowest field of vision known.

What Time Do Birds Go To Bed?

Diurnal birds will usually go to bed at dusk or start winding down. They will go to their nest, roost, or tree to rest.

Some birds are crepuscular; they go to bed later than an actual diurnal bird. Crepuscular birds will forage into the evening hours and go to bed after foraging.

On the other hand, nocturnal birds will go to bed at dawn. They fly, mate, forage and hunt all night long. Consequently, they will then sleep during the day.

Can A Robin See At Night?

Robins do not see well in the dark; they are diurnal birds that are active during the day. Studies have shown that Robins can sense/see the earth’s magnetic field but only when it’s light out. Robin’s have more cones than rods in their eyes, which allows them to see ultraviolet and colors with greater detail than a nocturnal bird.

Can Ravens See In The Dark?

A raven can see in the dark. However, they do not have night vision like an owl. Although they can see in the dark, it is not easy for them. Ravens are diurnal, which means they are active during the day and sleep at night. However, comparing a raven’s night vision to a human’s night vision, a raven has 10x better vision in the dark than a human. 

Can Geese See In The Dark?

Yes, Geese can see in the dark; however, they are not nocturnal birds. Overall, their vision is at least 10X better than humans, which means they can see in the dark better than us.

Can Conures See In The Dark?

A conure can see in the dark, but not as well as when light out. Conures have more cones than rods, which allows them better daytime vision. Sometimes, if you approach your bird’s cage, they may not fully see the details in the nighttime.

You can startle your bird since they will see a shadow approaching. Since a conure’s eyes are more lateral they have a greater field of vision than other mammals. This allows them to keep watch on all sides without moving their head too much.

Can Parrots See In The Dark?

Most parrots are diurnal, A parrot can see in the dark, however, they cannot make out the details. The photoreceptors in a parrot’s eyes allow excellent day vision. Most parrots are diurnal,l, which gives them perfect daytime vision but not so great night vision.

On the other hand,d there are a few parrots species like the Owl Parrot and the Night Parrot which are nocturnal. Their image, anatomy, and physiology have adapted to have a nocturnal schedule.

Can Owls See In The Daytime?

Yes, an owl can see in the daytime; however, their vision may be blurry.,A pupil will get smaller in the bright light and more prominent in the dim light in humans and other mammals. These adjustments allow us to see in all kinds of light, however, owls do not dilate and constrict their pupils like us. In bright the p, pupils of an owl do not get as small as ours.

Therefore, an owl may close their eyes to block some of the light. Most owls are nocturnal, so their eyes are not adapted to bright lights. The anatomy and physiology of an owl’s eyes give them a night vision advantage.

Final Thoughts For “Can Birds See At Night?”

As you can see, the answer to the question “Can birds see at night?” is a complex one. Some can see better in the dark than others, depending on the bird species.

All birds can see at night to some degree, but there are some species that have evolved anatomical features that give them an advantage in seeing in low light conditions. Night vision is essential for birds that hunt or migrate at night.

What’s truly amazing though, is that no matter what time of day or night it is, these creatures are always hard at work – whether flying through the air, foraging for food, or taking care of their young. So the next time you’re outside watching the birds at play, take a moment to appreciate their natural wonder and beauty – regardless of the hour.

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