Which birds fly at night?

Which birds fly at night?

Birds that stay out overnight are called nocturnal birds. They sleep during the day and fly at night. Examples include owls, swifts, and nighthawks. These birds have large eyes to help them see in the dark. What is their nighttime food supply? Most nocturnal birds eat moths and other insects that fly at night. We put together a list of nocturnal birds for you. Hint: Most of them are owls.

North Island Brown Kiwi

The North Island brown kiwi has a special adaptation to see in the dark. Its eyes contain more rods than cones, meaning they collect light but can’t make out details – which might be helpful at night (when there is potentially lots of light), but not during the day.


The kakapo is a nocturnal parrot, has very large eyes to pick up even the faintest of light. Their feathers are specially adapted for nighttime concealment.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

The black-crowned night heron is a medium-sized, nocturnal heron breeds from Washington state to northern Baja California. The species breeds at inland sites east of the Pacific Ocean and on the islands in Puget Sound. Inland forest edge habitats are most productive. Nest sites often abut human habitations such as homes or outbuildings.

Short-Eared Owl

The short-eared owl is a medium-sized owl native to North America. It has ear tufts that sometimes look like long spiky hair, giving the bird its name. As a nocturnal hunter, this species feeds on small mammals, birds, and insects that it can catch in flight during nighttime hours. However, they tend to perch on posts or other landmarks to watch for prey at dawn and dusk.

Long-Eared Owl

The eastern long-eared owl is not your average bird, as their hearing is so good they can hear a mouse move under snow from 13 meters away; they are also known to fly 250 kilometers per night.
The eastern long-eared owl looks like most other owls. Greyish brown with big eyes and ear tufts that look like bunny ears on either side of their head. They have “ear” markings on the back of their head, but those aren’t ears at all. Instead, the dark areas are feathers that have been mottled by light spots as camouflage while perched during hunting. The males have beards on their faces which makes them look fierce, but these feathers don’t grow any thicker than normal facial feathers – it’s just an optical illusion caused by the white tips.

The long-eared owl is found throughout Canada, except the very northern tip of Ontario and Quebec, and in the northeastern U.S., often near water, but it can be found anywhere there are trees to build nests in. They have an extensive range of 1,500-4,000 square kilometers per pair (2.5 – 7 sq mi), making them one of the least territorial owls around. But they do defend their territory savagely during breeding season!

Great Horned Owl

Great horned owls are among the most common of North American raptors because they breed in every province and territory from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts. In addition, great horned owls inhabit various habitats, including residential areas, open fields, and semi-arid deserts.
They are large (17 to 22 inches tall) with rounded heads and ear tufts (feathers that stick up over their ears). Their plumage is brown on the upper body and white below except for faint barring on the lower chest. Juveniles have brown streaks along their breast sides instead of finely barred feathers in adults.

Barred Owl

Barred owls are the only owl species that have been reported to nest in groups. They are the largest of all North American owls, but their actual body size is not a good indicator of how big they look because these birds’ feathers are dense and fluffy, giving them a smaller wingspan than other kinds of owls. However, their large facial disks make up for this difference with an abnormally large “face,” which gives them a very calming appearance. Their distinctive vocalizations include a variety of soft coos, hisses, and barks, which can be heard throughout much of the year.

Spotted Owl

The spotted owl is a night bird of the temperate forests and coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest. It is a small owl, 11″ tall, including its tufted ears.
The spotted owl occupies a niche similar to the barred owl in the east. They are both predator-scavengers with limited hunting skills, but it is for medium-sized mammals when they do hunt. In California, their primary prey is deer mice; however, since there are no deer here, it would seem they have probably switched over to voles and possibly pocket gophers as well as other rodents and lagomorphs (hares).

Eastern Screech-Owl

The eastern screech owl is a small owl native to eastern North America. It’s a night-active bird and can be found in thick woods, forests, and urban areas. It’s also a very aggressive bird that doesn’t hesitate to attack humans when closing by.

The adult plumage is mottled brown feathers with barring underneath it, white eyebrows, pinkish eyes, black beak and legs, gray feet, and checkered speckle-and-stripe backside of their flight feathers. 

Western Screech Owl

The calls of the western screech owl are an auditory experience familiar to most California residents. This small forest bird’s soft “who who?” or “two-whoot” sound often echoes through residential neighborhoods at nightfall, yet little is known about where these owls live and how many there are statewide.

Elf Owl

Another bird that flys at night is the elf owl. Unlike most owls that eat small mammals or insects, the elf owl eats insects and frogs. They are found in Central and South America.

Boreal owl

The night-active Boreal owl is a medium-sized owl typically in possession of soft, dense feathers because they live in a cold area and cannot fly for extended periods like other species of owls. They are also known for their beautiful white and brown striped, speckled plumage. The male is significantly larger than the female (about 10% heavier).

The Boreal Owl’s diet consists mainly of small mammals and birds readily available in most environments inhabited by these nocturnal predators. After landing on tree branches or poles near their prey, they actively stalk them until close enough to strike with lethal force.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing owls live in holes in the ground. They dig them out themselves, and they even add extra rooms when they need them! It’s about 10 inches (25 cm) tall and weighs only 1 pound (500 grams), and therefore the smallest owl in North America. Its diet consists of insects, small mammals (including mice and voles), nestlings and eggs, and lizards.


The nighthawk is a medium-sized, crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn), non-migratory bird of the nightjar family. It is also an insectivore that has been known to eat frogs, mice, birds, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects.
They are usually silent except for the courtship call when they can make a variety of sounds like a hoarse owl hoot or rattlesnake buzz as well as clucks and hisses.

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