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There are few bird species that can be heard at night. These include some songbirds, but mainly owls. The most common nocturnal singers are presented here.

In a nutshell

  • few birds sing at night
  • apart from songbirds, nocturnal birds of prey call
  • Shrews can be mistaken for birdsong
  • in bright areas, more bird species sing at night


Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

One of the common birds to be found in the garden, singing very early in the morning or even at night, is the redstart. As a semi-cave or cavity breeder, it likes to use old trees.

Source: Mandes Rupp, Redstart-male-1, edited from Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Appearance: Males have very high-contrast coloring, visual field, throat and beak black, white stripe over the eyes, upper head gray up to the neck, orange-red chest, whitish belly, females less conspicuous, reddish-brown to beige
  • Diet: small insects, their larvae, spiders, berries
  • Song: three recurring parts per verse, variable, imitations of other songbirds, longer breaks at night
    Occurrence: As a long-distance migrant, the redstart overwinters in Africa. In summer it is native from Europe to Central Asia. It prefers gardens or parks, but also light deciduous forests.

Larks (Alaudidae)

The skylark is best known, but the family is very species-rich. Basically, they are not typical nocturnal singers, but you can also hear them on bright nights, such as when there is a full moon. Since their song is very melodious and they like to imitate other bird calls, they are easily mistaken for the nightingale.

Source: Neil Smith, Skylark (Alauda arvensis) by Neil Smith, edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Appearance: Medium size, inconspicuous brown, hardly any gender differences, females may be slightly smaller and lighter
  • Diet: mostly seeds and insects
  • Song: varied, frequent song flights, from dawn to dusk
  • Occurrence: There are larks worldwide. The skylark is mainly found in Asia and Europe. Typically, it inhabits agricultural areas.

Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

The only bird that actually sings late at night is the nightingale. Her voice is usually heard around midnight. In the spring, the males look for females who are ready to mate.

  • Appearance: small, about the size of a house sparrow, inconspicuously brown in color, hardly any sex differences
  • Diet: Insects, in the cold season also fruits from bushes
  • Song: only males sing, melodious, varied, imaginative, mating calls at night, territorial defense during the day
  • Occurrence: Nightingales are native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. Being migratory, European populations winter in Africa. The nightingale was also brought to Australia by humans.

Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris)

Like the reed warbler, the marsh warbler also belongs to the reed warbler genus and is widespread, but is rarely perceived as a nocturnal warbler.

  • Appearance: small, inconspicuous brown-grey, hardly any gender differences
  • Diet: Insects, their larvae and spiders
  • Singing: late in the evening into the night, typical reed warbler sounds and imitated bird calls
  • Occurrence: Marsh warblers are migratory birds and are found throughout Europe. They move to Africa at the end of summer. They inhabit dense bushes or reed beds near water. Sometimes they also nest in grain fields.

Notice: Reed warblers and marsh warblers are difficult to tell apart.

owl birds

Owls are not songbirds, but their calls are particularly characteristic at night. Therefore, they can also be called night singers. Typical for owls is the nocturnal lifestyle, which includes not only hunting but also reproduction. Since they start breeding very early in the year, their calls can be heard at a completely different time of year than songbird songs.

Notice: The number of owls per year often depends directly on the size of the local mouse population.

Barn owl (Tyto alba)

The barn owl is one of the most beautiful European owls. The light plumage with the even lighter, heart-shaped facial veil is typical.

  • Appearance: Medium-sized, slender, light brown on top, gray plumage, light belly, often white, dark eyes
  • Diet: Small mammals, mainly mice and shrews in Central Europe
  • Voice: Unlike other owl species, the barn owl's call is more like a loud screech.
  • Occurrence: Barn owls are distributed worldwide, mainly in warmer zones. The Central European barn owl has one of the northernmost distribution areas. It occurs in open, structured landscapes.

Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)

The eagle owl is the largest European species of owl. He is not as used to humans as other owls, who even breed or hunt indoors.

  • Appearance: wingspan over 150 cm, females are larger and heavier than males, plumage is colored brown, black and red-brown, speckled in branches for camouflage, typical feather ears that can be laid back, orange-yellow eyes
  • Diet: not just limited to small mammals, rabbits and hares, small predators, larger birds, other owls too
  • Voice: The courtship call of the male eagle owl is typical, to which it owes its name. It can be heard from afar and is like a «buho», while the female replies with an «uhu».
  • Distribution: Owls are native to Europe, Africa and Asia. They prefer mountains and low mountain ranges. In flat areas heavily used for agriculture, the eagle owl is sometimes completely absent. Few breeding pairs nest in cities.

Tawny owl (Strix aluco)

In addition to the long-eared owl, the tawny owl is the most common owl species in Central Europe. It inhabits tree-rich landscapes, which, however, must have open areas for hunting. The tawny owl breeds in caves, but also lives in buildings.

Tawny owl, Strix aluco
  • Appearance: small, stocky owl, bark-like colored plumage, very variable coloration, coloration also depends on habitat, no feather ears, females heavier than males, slightly larger
  • Diet: Mice, with too few small mammals also small birds
  • Voice: The calls of the tawny owls can be heard from afar at night. Courtship songs and district songs contain different variants of the typical "Hu". Females respond with their own distinctive call.
  • Occurrence: The tawny owl is widespread from Europe to Asia. It inhabits mainly well-structured landscapes with bushes and groups of trees. Despite its name, it doesn't necessarily rely on forests.

Long-eared owl (Asio otus)

The long-eared owl looks similar to the tawny owl, but has feathery ears and is slimmer. They inhabit similar habitats.

  • Appearance: Females contrasting rusty brown, tawny and black, males lighter overall, eyes orange-red
  • Diet: Mainly mice, also hunts songbirds
  • Voice: The dull call of the male in the territory, which resembles a "Huh", can be heard especially in the early evening. It is repeated continuously and continues into the night.
  • Occurrence: The long-eared owl is native to Europe, Asia, the mountains of Africa and Canada and the USA. It often nests in coniferous trees in which there are old crow or magpie nests.

city birds

Songbirds in particular, which have adapted to living close to humans and breed in cities, may be prone to singing at night due to the bright lighting. These include:

  • blackbirds
  • throttles
  • sparrows
  • tits
  • swift

Risk of confusion shrew

Shrews communicate through chirping sounds that are very similar to the song of some songbirds. Since they are also nocturnal, they can easily be mistaken for a nocturnal singer.

frequently asked Questions

How to watch birds at night?

Observing songbirds or owls at night is not easy because they are sensitive to any disturbance. Night vision goggles might help. Owls are also visible as shadows flying between trees and bushes. However, they are difficult to determine.

Why do birds sing at night?

The main reason is the mutual understanding. In addition, songbirds mark their territory with their song. Sometimes, at night, warning calls from certain bird species can also be heard. Another reason is the formation of pairs, then only unpaired males sing at night.

Where do Nightsingers live?

Owls live mainly in forests or at least near them, but also come into tree-covered gardens, where they rest high up in the treetops during the day, almost invisible. Nocturnal songbirds usually live in hedges or gardens with a rich stock of trees or shrubs.

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