When the sun sets and the shadows lengthen, most songbirds settle into their favorite nesting spots for the night. Migrating songbirds follow a different schedule, as they often migrate during nighttime hours. The traveling birds chirp frequently to keep in touch and warn other birds away from the caller's flight space. You'll find that some well-known songbirds often call or sing all night for completely different reasons.
A northern mockingbird's all-night concerts might be distracting to nearby birds who are attempting to sleep. These long-winded avian singers also might disrupt human neighbors' sleep cycles. Not surprisingly, a young northern mockingbird male sings to attract an enthusiastic mate. Older males who find themselves without a female companion also sing at night for the same reason. Coaxing a female mockingbird into a lonely male mockingbird's habitat might solve the problem.
A whippoorwill's familiar call sounds just like his name. A whippoorwill begins his three-syllable call around dusk, and generally continues until dawn, although this busy bird seems most active at the beginning and end of his nightly serenades. He keeps himself well fed while he sings, snatching night-flying bugs, such as beetles, mosquitoes and moths. During the day, a whippoorwill camouflages himself on trees' lower limbs, resting with his body exactly parallel to his nesting branch.
A chuck-will's-widow's unusual three-syllable call, beginning with a click, and warbling the second and third syllables, sets this mysterious bird apart from other nighttime singers. While he vocalizes, he flies a short distance above the ground or water, scooping up moths and beetles as he skims along. He typically sings right at dusk and during moonlit or balmy nights, apparently while he courts a female partner. After he mates, a male chuck-will's-widow keeps quiet during the nesting cycle, but sings again before he migrates during the fall.
Nightingales' haunting, mournful songs have become legendary through stories and poems. A male nightingale often sings for hours, at night and during the day. He generally snacks on insects, although he also consumes small fruits. While the male sings his heart out, the female nightingale protects her concealed nest in a low hedge or thicket. Highly secretive nightingales, members of the thrush family, inhabit secluded forests in Europe, parts of Asia and Africa. The nightingale's faraway habitats mean you probably won't see a native nightingale in North America.
- Winston-Salem Journal: We Hear Just a Few of the Birds That Sing at Night
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds -- Frequently Asked Questions -- A Bird is Singing All Night Long Outside
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation: Whip-poor-will Fact Sheet
- Animal Diversity Web: Chuck-will's-widow
- Animal Planet: Birds -- Perching Birds -- Nightingale
Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.