Birding at Night

Nightfall brings about a special transition within nature that is unseen by most of us. There is a mystery regarding the happenings and dwellings of nocturnal beings that eludes our own diurnal nature, but as one uncovers the signs and the sounds of what resides when the sun is at rest, it stirs up curiosity and wonder for the birdlife that its concealed in the shadows.

There many species of birds that have adapted or conditioned to carry out activities in the night that help them thrive in their environment. To seek them out more frequently is to understand not only their physiology but also their behaviour. It takes a certain amount of effort, persistence and patience to look for nocturnal birds. Mentioned below are some of the attributes one should study in their field guides before venturing out for some night time birding –

Features of Nocturnal Birds

It’s safe to say that birding during the day is far easier than at night, for some of the birds that are seen during the light of day are highly vocal and exhibit bright coloured plumages in order to advertise themselves for potential mates. However, birds at night that have adopted the opposite rhythm, which implies that they would have certain adaptations that set them apart from birds visible between dawn and dusk –

  • Plumage

 These birds have developed plumages that are far less conspicuous. Shades of brown, grey, white and sometimes darker colours that match with barks of trees are the ideal for species of owls, nightjars, frogmouths and thick-knees. In the case of males and females, there is no sexual dimorphism, in fact they both look the same.

  • Camouflage

One of the foremost adaptations of a nocturnal bird, especially if roosting during the day is their choice of preference. The plumage of these birds have evolved with patterns that allow them to dissolve impeccably with their environment. The markings range from spots, barrings, that give them mottled appearance to deter the eyes of predators.

  • Eyes

Endowed with light receptors that have a large concentration of rods than cones, birds of the night are highly sensitive to the slightest movement. Gifted with strikingly large eyes, these birds can be categorized as special hunters that have laser sharp focus to stay a step ahead of their prey in question.

  • Overall Senses

It’s not only the gift of remarkable eyesight, but nocturnal birds are endowed with a great hearing and a sharp sense of smell. There is a heightened awareness when compared to diurnal beings as to detect slightest rustle in leaves.

  • Behaviour

Stillness is one distinct feature of nocturnal birds that stands out among other species. When one discovers an owl or a nightjar perched during the day, you would notice that they hardly move a muscle. This is largely attributed to a form of defence that allows them to stay camouflaged with their background without compromising their position.

Some of the Nocturnal Birds of India

  • Indian Eagle Owl
  • Mottled Wood Owl
  • Sri Lankan Frogmouth
  • Indian Thick Knee
  • Black Crowned Night Heron
  • Indian Nightjar
  • Jungle Nightjar

Things to Consider When Looking for Nocturnal Species

  • Finding nocturnal birds can be a bit of a challenge, but it is one well worth taking. Keeping your senses on guard is the best way to seek any of these birds. Most owls and nightjars have serrations in their wings which enables them to fly silently without generating a whisper.
  • Owls usually have a specific roosting spot which they rely on. Once you’ve identified a certain tree hollow or crevice, you are likely to see the bird resting there. However, one should always be mindful to when observing these birds as they may abandon their site in case of prolonged disturbance.
  • Listening for calls is one of the more reliable techniques to identify and locate these birds. Bird calls are unique to each species and listening to the calls of birds that you are likely to see will prepare you for identification when birds get vocal.

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