how do birds sleep in a nest

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

As December days shorten, you may wonder where birds, including this Steller’s Jay and others, spend the long, cold nights. It might surprise you to learn that they are not snuggled into cozy nests.

The only time of the year when birds sleep in nests is when they are incubating eggs or keeping their young warm. During the rest of the year, birds select a roosting spot. Often they use the same roost night after night.

Songbirds find a protected place to perch, sheltered from rain and safe from nighttime predators. Small forest birds including this Red-breasted Nuthatch, may spend the night huddled together in tree cavities. Ducks float in protected bays. Woodpeckers, like this Downy Woodpecker, cling to vertical tree trunks. Crows roost communally.

On these cold nights, birds fluff up their feathers for insulation and often hunker down over their bare legs and feet to keep them warm. Most birds can’t tuck their heads under their wings to sleep as we’ve been lead to believe. But they do turn their heads around and poke their beaks under shoulder-feathers to keep their beaks warm.

Calls of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Red-breasted Nuthatch recorded by G.A.Keller; Mallards by A.A. Allen; Downy Woodpecker by W.W.H. Gunn; European Starlings recorded by Martyn Stewart,; Forest ambient including Steller’s Jay, recorded by C. Peterson.

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Do Birds Sleep in Nests?

how do birds sleep in a nest

Contrary to popular belief, birds do not spend the nighttime hours in their nests; instead, they use them to raise their young and incubate eggs. Birds will spend the night in their nests during nesting seasons in order to give their eggs or young the warmth and protection from predators that they require. However, parent birds will depart the nest as well as their young when they are old enough to do so, never to return.

Where Do Birds Go at Night?

how do birds sleep in a nest

Birds that are nocturnal seek out secure, covered areas to spend the night. They frequently look for areas with lots of foliage, tree cavities and niches, high treetop perches, and other areas shielded from the elements and predators. Smaller birds, such as cardinals and finches, will perch near or high in trees, where the warmth of the sun from the daytime often remains. Birdhouses and nesting boxes are used by other birds, particularly if they can rely on food and water nearby. They might also use covered areas to roost, such as roofs, ledges, and barns. While wading birds like herons and egrets sleep standing in water or on land, ducks and other waterfowl sleep floating in it.

how do birds sleep in a nest

Diurnal vs. Nocturnal Birds

When addressing the title question, the first thing to clarify is: which birds are we talking about? A common misconception is that all birds are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day and sleep at night, but this is untrue. Consider the owl, which hunts its prey at night (pun intended). The aptly named nighthawks and nightjars do the same. These and other nocturnal birds usually spend the day sleeping, waking up to begin their activities as the sun sets. However, since the majority of birds are diurnal, they adhere to the same general sleep schedule as people.


Do mother birds sleep in the nest with their babies?

During nesting seasons, birds will sleep in nests at night to provide their eggs or young with needed warmth and protection against predators. But once young birds are old enough to leave the nest, parent birds will leave it also, without returning.

Do birds sleep in the same place every night?

Though most birds don’t rest in the same place each and every night and have a choice of roosting sites they will all tend to be close to where the bird has spent the day feeding. Sleep can be a dangerous time for birds, due to danger from cold and predators.

Do birds sleep with their babies at night?

Birds hardly ever sleep in nests unless they’re babies or if it’s a cold night and the adult parents cuddle up to the babies to keep them warm. Nests are for chicks to hatch and grow up in.

How do birds not fall out of trees when they sleep?

Actually, it is very unlikely that roosting birds will fall from their perch. When the bird places weight on its feet, the muscles in the leg force the tendons of the feet to tighten, keeping the foot closed. This gives the bird a vice-like grip around any branch it may be resting on, so the bird doesn’t slip off.