Do Birds Fly at Night? Explained With Examples

“Do birds fly at night?” is the central question we will tackle in this article. There are many night-flying birds, and we will discuss why some birds fly at night and some don’t.

In the excellent book by Scott Weidensaul, “A World on the Wing,” he starts talking about how birds can fly non-stop for days and not suffer from sleep deprivation. Migratory birds can shut down one hemisphere of their brain and corresponding eye for 1-2 seconds at a time.

Furthermore, we call shutting down one hemisphere: unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS). Doing this allows them to fly through the night but still get the rest they need.

Check out this awesome book here to learn more.

A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds
  • Weidensaul, Scott (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 03/15/2022 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

Not only that, but they take micro naps that last a few seconds during the day. Moreover, these mico naps allow them to re-charge and fly for days on end.

Weidensaul describes chemical signals dictated by the earth’s magnetic pull while building a map in the bird’s eye. This map correlates with the geomagnetic fields through which migratory birds travel. Furthermore, the book “A World on the Wing” also details birds being able to visualize the earth’s magnetic field through quantum entanglement.

Is It Normal for Birds to Fly Around at Night?

Yes, it is normal for migratory birds to fly through the night. However, if a bird is not migrating or nocturnal by nature, it will probably sleep at night. Even typically diurnal birds can fly around at night during their twice-yearly migration.

Reasons Why Birds May Fly at Night

Here are a few reasons why you may see a bird flying around at night.

Nocturnal by Nature

If you are wondering which birds can see at night, it’s the nocturnal birds. Naturally, nocturnal birds, like the owl or Ashey storm petrel, will be actively flying around at night. They may be looking for food, building nests, or mating.

On the other hand, some diurnal migratory birds that fly all night may not have good night vision. Although they rely on intricate maps that their eyes make with the help of the earth’s magnetic field.

Hunting for Food

Nocturnal animals usually have good night vision. Some birds like owls and nighthawks wake up as the sun is setting to begin their nightly hunt for food. These birds like to hunt for food when it is dark outside.

They can see in the dark because their eyes are large and have more rods than cones in their retina. This arrangement helps them to see better in dim light but not as well in bright sunlight.

Most owls and nighthawks have feathers that are brown or gray. This color helps them blend in with their surroundings, so their prey will not see them coming. Owls and nighthawks use their sharp vision and hearing to help them find food in the dark. 


Migrating through the night is a primary reason you will see birds flying at night. The night skies are filled with billions of migrating birds from April through May (and then again in the fall). Many people don’t even realize that while they are sound asleep, there is a mass movement of birds above them.

The Arctic Tern was the bird everyone considered the long-distance migration champion. However, with more data and geolocation, ornithologists are studying the migratory patterns with trackers; we know about many other birds who migrate for days.

For instance, the sooty shearwaters in NZ migrate from NZ to Japan, Alaska, and California – over 46,000 miles per year. Scientists believe that night migration may help birds avoid predators and take advantage of tailwinds.

Startled Out of Their Nest

If you’ve ever seen a bird flying around at night (that wasn’t migrating or nocturnal), you may wonder why it’s up and about when all the other birds are asleep. The answer, in many cases, is that the bird has been startled out of its nest.

Birds usually only come out at night if they’re frightened or looking for food. So, if you see a bird flying around at night, it’s likely that something has scared it out of its nest. The good news is that, in most cases, the bird will eventually find its way back to its nest, and all will be well.

Crepuscular by Nature

You will see crepuscular birds flying around at dusk. Some active birds around sunset are flamingos, owls, woodcocks, chimney swifts, night hawks, and Wilson’s snipes, to name a few.

While most birds are diurnal, crepuscular birds have adapted to take advantage of the active insects at night. By flying at dusk, they can avoid competition from other predators and enjoy a meal of insects. So next time you see a bird flying at dusk, think about how adaptable these creatures are!

Do Birds Migrate at Night?

There are billions of birds migrating twice area across the night skies. Birds migrate at night to avoid predators and get to where they are going faster. Since migrating birds can shut down one hemisphere of their brain, they can conserve energy and fly throughout the night.

Most of us sleep, not even aware of the movements going on above us. Although we may not be able to see them, we can certainly hear them if we pay attention. If you hear a whooshing noise, it might be birds migrating at night.

The Lights Out Project is a national effort spearheaded by the Audobon Society. It aims to get building owners to turn off lights during the migratory bird seasons. During the migrations, the bright lights can disorient birds on a mobile mission.

Birds are crossing through so many dangers that we will never truly understand. Therefore helping them migrate safely with the Lights Out Project is essential for worldwide ecology.

How Do Birds Sleep While Flying?

It is still unclear how much sleep a bird gets while flying. Since to know this exactly, a scientist would have to obtain recordings of the brain activity of birds while in migration. At the time, there was no good way to record this in-the-moment data. 

Instead, we rely on the fact that we know that many birds can sleep using one hemisphere at a time—especially when under stressful conditions, like long migrations. 

However, in a small study from 2016, they were able to record electroencephalogram data of great frigatebirds on a 10-day flight over the ocean. You can read this in this publication: Evidence that Birds Sleep in Mid-Flight by Rattenborg, N., Voirin, B., Cruz, S. et al.

This study shows us when in flight, a bird-like the frigatebird only sleeps for under 3% of the time. Whereas when on land, their sleep time is above 50%. What this study shows us is that birds do indeed use one hemisphere while in flight. However, when in flight, they sleep less than when on land. The demands of flight outweigh the need for sleep, and a bird’s body compensates by allowing them to complete a remarkable feat on little sleep. 

There is still more to learn about how birds fly at night, but we hope this has given you a better understanding of these fantastic creatures. The next time you see a bird flying at night, take a moment to appreciate the beauty and mystery of nature.

Why Don’t Some Birds Fly at Night?

Some birds don’t fly at night because 1. They are not nocturnal or 2. They are not migratory. Nocturnal birds have adapted to flying, hunting, and foraging in the dark. Migratory birds also have particular physiological adaptations that allow them to fly through the night.

What Bird Flies Around at Night? 

Here is a list of 21 birds that may fly around at night. Some fly around because they are nocturnal, whereas others fly around at night if they are in the middle of a migration. (like some migrating woodpeckers.)

  • Barn Swallows – migratory bird
  • Chimney Swift – migratory bird
  • Sandhill Cranes – migratory bird
  • Ospreys – migratory bird
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker – migratory bird
  • Brown Thrasher – Partial migrant
  • Orioles – migratory bird
  • Piping Plovers – migratory bird
  • Sooty Shearwater – migratory bird
  • Arctic Tern – migratory bird
  • Red Knots – migratory bird
  • Sparrows – migratory bird
  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds – migratory bird
  • Blackpoll Warbler – migratory bird
  • Geese – migratory bird

Do Owls Fly at Night?

Yes, owls fly at night to hunt and find food. Many owls are nocturnal predators that hunt primarily at night. Not only that, but they also have good night vision and can see in low light conditions. These adaptations help owls to be successful hunters at night. One thing to keep in mind is that not all owls are nocturnal. For instance, the snowy owl is diurnal and prefers to sleep at night and hunt during the day.

Furthermore, owls are not the only animals that hunt at night, but they are one of the most efficient predators of the night. These nocturnal animals use their powerful talons to kill their prey. Furthermore, they typically eat small mammals such as mice, voles, birds, reptiles, and shrews.

More importantly, owls are essential in the ecosystem because they help keep populations of these animals in check. Without owls, these populations would get out of control and could cause problems for humans and other animals.

Do Hawks Fly at Night?

Hawks do not typically fly at night; they are diurnal birds active during the daytime and sleep at night. Also, hawks are not known to migrate long distances, and some do not migrate. Lastly, some species of hawks do more short-term migrations, so they do not need to fly through the night like some of the other long-distance migratory birds on our list above.

Do Eagles Fly at Night?

Eagles are diurnal birds who hunt during the day and sleep and night. While eagles can fly at night, they prefer to hunt during the day when visibility is better; however, if it’s migration season, they may pass through the night.

Furthermore, eagles rely on their keen eyesight to spot prey, and darkness makes it more difficult to see. An eagle does not hunt at night.

In addition, eagles typically hunt alone, so flying at night would make it harder to find a mate or stay together as a pair. For these reasons, eagles usually only fly at night if they have to, such as in cases of bad weather or if they’re migrating.

Do Doves Fly at Night?

Doves are fascinating diurnal creatures, and people often wonder if they fly at night. The answer is a little complicated. While doves do not typically fly at night, they may be startled into flight if something frightens them in the darkness.

Moreover, this can happen if they are suddenly exposed to light or hear a loud noise. In addition, doves are prone to night frights, which can cause them to take to the air in a panic. As a result, it is not uncommon for you to see a dove flying at night, although they usually return to their roosts right away.

Pictures of Birds That Fly at Night

arctic terns are birds known to fly through the night during migration

The Arctic Tern

The Arctic tern birds have one of the longest annual migrations, they are known to fly for days on end without stopping.

picture of an owl, a bird that flies at night


Owls are another type of bird that flies through the night. However, unlike the arctic tern, most owls are nocturnal and hunt for prey during the night.

picture of birds that fly at night for migration

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar waxwings fly north to breed in the Northern US as well as Canada. Some cedar waxwings migrate short distances and others make a longer trek. Those that migrate a longer distance will fly through the night.

Sooty Shearwater flying above the ocean is a migratory bird that flies through the night

Sooty Shearwater

Just like the arctic terns, the sooty shearwaters are known for their extremely long migrations. They fly 40,000 miles round trip every single year!

What Are White Birds That Fly at Night?

Some white birds that fly at night: masked booby, great white pelicans, hermit thrush (white chest), some owls (white patches), sanderlings, arctic tern, & Forster’s Terns. These are a few white birds that you may see flying at night.

Aside from the owls, most of these birds fly at night for migration. Many of them will fly day and night for 10+ days to get to their habitat.

How to Tell if Its Bats or Birds Flying At Dusk?

How to Tell if Its Bats or Birds Flying At Dusk? As the sun sets and the sky grows darker, you may notice small creatures flitting through the air. But how can you tell if they’re bats or birds? There are a few key ways to tell the difference.

First, take a look at their silhouette. Bats tend to have shorter bodies, while birds have sleek, elongated shapes. You can also listen to their sound. Bats emit high-pitched squeaks that are difficult for humans to hear, while birds sing cheerful songs.

Finally, observe their flight pattern. Bats often fly erratically, while birds tend to fly in a straight line. By keeping an eye out for these clues, you’ll be able to tell whether it’s bats or birds flying at dusk.

Are Birds Active at Night?

Are Birds Active at Night? The answer may surprise you—yes, many species of birds are active at night, and some are even active just after dusk! However, the crepuscular birds do sleep throughout the night.

Some birds who usually sleep during the night stay up all night only when migrating long distances. On the other hand, long-distance migratory birds are active at night only during seasonal migrations. Which helps answer our question, “Do Birds Fly at Night? “.

Common nocturnal birds include owls, nightjars, potoos, and some hawks. These birds typically have large eyes that help them see in the dark and are often reticent so they can better hunt for prey.

Some night-active birds also have special feathers that help them stay camouflaged in the darkness. So next time you find yourself up late at night, keep your eyes peeled for these fascinating creatures!

Final Thoughts for “Do Birds Fly at Night”?

Nocturnal birds fly at night. Notably, they have evolved into seeing better in the dark and avoiding predators. Migrating birds fly at night to reduce the chances of being seen, get to where they are going faster, and not get caught by predators. Birds who are startled may also take flight at night if they feel unsafe. While some crepuscular birds are active during the day and the night, for the most part, birds fly during the times that work best for their specific needs.