Nocturnal birds (birds that are active during the darkness and inactive during daylight) feed their babies at night. Diurnal birds (birds that are active during the daylight and inactive during the darkness) do not feed their babies at night.
What You'll Learn
To properly answer whether birds feed their babies at night, we need to begin by making a distinction between diurnal birds and nocturnal birds.
Like humans, diurnal birds are active during the daylight and asleep or inactive during the darkness. Diurnal birds may feed their babies throughout the day, but their activity stops at night for the most part. This includes hunting and feeding.
On the other hand, Nocturnal birds are active during the darkness and asleep or inactive during daylight. Nocturnal birds feed their babies at night.
The answer to our question is rather simple: Yes and No.
Nocturnal birds feed their babies at night, while diurnal birds do not.
Now, which birds are which?
Birds such as night-herons and nightjars, as well as most species of owls, are nocturnal birds. When we humans are long asleep and dreaming, these birds are up and about, singing, hunting, and feeding their babies throughout the night.
How Owls Feed Their Babies At Night
In the case of baby owls, called nestlings, the father owl spends most of the night out on the hunt while the mother owl stays back in the nest, keeping the nestlings safe and warm.
Most owl species are carnivores, so the father owl will often bring home mammalian prey such as voles and mice.
When the father owl returns successfully with prey, the mother owl tears the prey into smaller pieces so that the nestlings can swallow their meal whole. All of this activity takes place under the cover of night and ends around dawn.
How Nightjars Feed Their Babies At Night
Nightjars, whose name betrays their nocturnality, are another species of bird that feed their young at night.
Nightjars build their nests on the ground, and both the mother and father nightjar may leave the nest throughout the night to hunt for food that they can bring back to the babies.
Unlike owls, in which the father owl is the singular hunter of food for the babies, father nightjars may take a turn staying back in the nest while the mother nightjar goes out into the night to hunt.
Parental nightjars return to their babies with a variety of insects, including beetles, ants, and caterpillars.
Appropriately, one of the nicknames for a nightjar is “bug eater.” While the activity of nightjars, including the feeding of their babies, may continue into the dawn, by full daylight, all nightjars will have retired to their nests.
How Black-Crowned Night-Herons Feed Their Babies At Night
The black-crowned night-heron is another bird that, as one may guess from its name, is most active under cover of darkness.
This bird does most of its hunting and the feeding of its babies at night. Night herons are found in wetlands throughout the world, and they rely in large part on aquatic prey.
It is hypothesized that night herons are most active at night because they have difficulty competing with other herons and egrets during the day.
An interesting fact about night-herons is that they are believed to mate monogamously. Accordingly, night heron nestlings are raised and fed by both of their parents.
Adult night herons stand at the water’s edge throughout the night and wait patiently to ambush their prey. When the hunt is successful, they may bring small fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and even small birds and mammals home to their offspring.
This period of hunting and feeding the young stretches from the late evening and throughout the night until dawn, at which point night-herons return to the nest for rest.
The most common species of birds we see are diurnal. This makes perfect sense, considering we humans are a diurnal species, so we are awake and asleep at the same times as diurnal birds. Birds like robins, cardinals, bluejays, pigeons, and doves are diurnal.
Diurnal Birds Feed Their Babies During The Day
Diurnal birds, such as those listed above, feed their babies during the day and not during the night. Diurnal birds may feed their babies once every two or three hours during the daylight.
For much of the day, the parental birds are out of the nest foraging for food to bring it back to their babies. Based on the species, these birds may hunt by various means and feed their babies everything from earthworms to crickets and even sunflower seeds.
But while the methods by which diurnal birds nourish their babies are many and varied, what is the same across all diurnal species of bird is that once the day gives way to night and the light to darkness, the parents take a break from hunting for food and return to the nest.
At that point, the feeding stops, and the baby birds sleep through the night. Around dawn, the baby birds will wake up hungry, at which point we humans may hear their chirping and twittering. Then, the feeding starts again.
Most Birds Are Diurnal
In short, some birds feed their babies at night, and some birds do not. As a rule of thumb, nocturnal birds feed their babies at night and not during the day, while diurnal birds feed their babies during the day and not at night.
Most birds are diurnal. For instance, of the over 2,000 species of North American birds, only around 30% are nocturnal. From this data, we may conclude that, as far as North American birds are concerned, around 30% of birds feed their babies at night, while the remaining 70% of birds do not.
Night-herons, nightjars, and most species of owls are examples of birds that feed their babies at night. Nighthawks, potoos, and frogmouths are a few more examples of birds that do the same. Birds such as robins, cardinals, pigeons, and doves do not feed their babies at night.
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