What Sounds Do Night Birds Make?

The most common night bird calls are those of nightjars and owls. Calls vary greatly depending on species and range from the familiar hooting of owls to sounds that are much more unusual.

Owls produce some of the most recognizable night bird sounds. Great horned owls are famous for their low hooting call. However, they also produce a vast array of whistles, hisses and barks, and young owls utter loud shrieks when begging for food. The barred owl’s “Who cooks for you?” call is one of the most familiar night-time bird sounds, especially in wooded areas. Other owls produce less recognizable calls. The call of the barn owl is a hissing shriek, while the eastern screech-owl produces a shrill, haunting whinny. The tiny northern saw-whet owl gets its name from its distinctive whistling call.

Nightjars, including nighthawks and whip-poor-wills, are other commonly heard night birds. Whip-poor-wills are difficult to see but easy to hear after dark in the eastern United States. Their call is a mournful whistle that sounds like their name. The call of the Chuck-will’s-widow is similar but louder and deeper. The common nighthawk has a diverse repertoire of vocalizations, but it is the sound of their wings that is most prominent. While diving, air rushes over their primary feathers to produce a loud boom.

It is important to note that many songbirds will also call at night. Mockingbirds are notorious for waking sleepers with their loud, incessant mimicry. Other birds will also begin calling in the predawn hours before sunrise.