According to the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee (MOURC), there are almost 450 bird species in the state – a number of those will sing during the night!
Examples of nocturnal birds in Minnesota include the common nighthawk, American robin, barred owl, northern mockingbird, and many others.
Do some of them seem familiar? Let’s jump in and see what each of these looks and sounds like!
Table of Contents
Nocturnal Birds In Minnesota
1. Northern Mockingbird
- Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
Northern mockingbirds are birds you will most often hear singing at night in Minnesota. Those who sing the most are often young, unattached males or older males without mates.
They are most noisy from March to August (their breeding season) and late September to November (while establishing winter territories).
To reduce their constantly annoying singing, consider using bird nets on trees or placing cardboard cutouts of predators like hawks or owls.
These birds are year-round residents in MN and are aptly named, as they can mimic over 200 different songs and imitate up to 35 species.
Their mimicry extends to sounds like rusty hinges, car alarms, cackling hens, and dog barks, sometimes indistinguishable even with electronic analysis.
2. American Robin
- Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
American robins are songbirds and common sights in forests, lawns, and suburbs across Minnesota, throughout the entire year.
As winter fades and daylight increases, they will be the first birds you hear singing just as dawn approaches, giving them the nickname “wake robins.”
The song is described as a “cheery” carol consisting of a string of 10 or so clear whistles; American robins also have a sharp “yeep” alarm call or a mumbled “tuk” when communicating with one another.
American Robin Song | Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
However, when the sun goes down, their song changes. From sunset until it gets very dark, they add soft, almost whispered notes to their singing, making their song sound elegant and intricate.
- Scientific Name: Charadrius vociferus
Just like in Arkansas, killdeers can be heard throughout the state. They inhabit open areas like sandbars, mudflats, fields, and even urban locations.
Killdeers are active day and night, with noticeable nighttime activity, especially in early spring and late summer. They often congregate in places like mall parking lots and well-lit ball fields, engaging in socializing, calling, and searching for food. Their name comes from their loud, piercing calls resembling “kill-deer, kill-deer.”
Killdeer Call | Source: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
4. American Woodcock
- Scientific Name: Scolopax minor
American woodcocks, small elusive birds, can be heard in Minnesota during summer from dusk to dawn. You will hear them in fields near forests, especially around powerline cuts.
They’re challenging to spot due to their nocturnal habits and camouflaged colors. You will recognize them by their distinctive “peent” call on the ground or twittering in the air.
5. Wilson’s Snipe
- Scientific Name: Gallinago delicata
Like American woodcocks, Wilson’s snipes are also found in Minnesota. Often heard singing during summer nights there, they prefer wet fields, marshes, and bogs. You will hear them around dawn and dusk.
Recognize them by their “tuk-tuk” call from the ground. They also have an intriguing winnowing display flight, creating distinct sounds in the air. Males fly high in circles, then dive, producing longer-lasting sounds. You can observe this behavior both day and night.
6. Eastern Screech-Owl
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
Eastern screech owls are small, stocky, and strictly nocturnal. They live in the woodlands of Southern Minnesota near water and lower elevations year-round.
They’re most vocal near sunset, becoming quieter as the night progresses. Calls increase around full moons and before storms. Listen for the “whinny” and trilling tremolo calls. In summer (June-August), watch for juvenile hissing sounds.
7. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
Great horned owls, one of Minnesota’s largest raptors, can be heard singing mainly after dark and before dawn. These permanent residents of the state prefer open areas near forests and make deep, loud “ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo” sounds.
Females have higher-pitched calls, peaking after midnight. They may sing in duets in winter or spring and have distinctive juvenile begging calls in summer, sometimes resembling barn owls’ calls.
8. Barn Owl
- Scientific Name: Tyto alba
One of the most startling sounds you can hear at night in Southern Minnesota is the loud, harsh call of barn owls. These permanent residents of the state are fairly common throughout the year.
During the colder months, they find shelter in thick pine trees or barns, while in the rest of the year, they stay around farms, rocky cliffs, forests, wetlands, and open areas.
Often with a “ghostly” appearance, especially if seen at night when they are most active, they do not hoot but make bone-chilling screams instead.
9. Barred Owl
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
Barred owls are other year-round residents of Minnesota found in dense forests near water. They’re active at night, known for their “who-cooks-for-you” song and “hoo-ahhh” calls, often in duets.
Juveniles have a unique high-pitched raspy hissing sound. These massive owls have mottled brown and white plumage and dark, almost black eyes.
10. Long-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio otus
Long-eared owls are elusive birds, blending into open forests, marshy areas, and dense coniferous woods of Minnesota.
Very rare, they come alive shortly after dusk, remaining active throughout the night. These owls are generally quiet but make distinct calls. The male’s song resembles low-pitched “hoo” notes, like blowing across a bottle.
They also have a distinctive juvenile begging call, though be cautious, as it can be confused with distant barking dogs or mooing cows.
11. Short-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
Short-eared owls, distributed worldwide except in Antarctica and Australia, can be often heard in open grasslands, including fields, marshes, and even airports. They mainly visit Minnesota during summer with some northern populations staying there year-round.
These owls have striking yellow eyes with black rings, resembling mascara. While usually quiet, they produce “voo-hoo-hoo” calls.
They are mostly nocturnal but can also be crepuscular.
12. Great Gray Owl
- Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
Patterned with brown and white mottling, streaks, and barrings, great gray owls blend perfectly with the gray-brown bark of their conifer perch.
Found in northeastern parts of MN, these owls are extremely secretive and hard to find and birders often consider it a huge achievement to get a confirmed sighting.
Great gray owls hoot and hunt at night or around dusk and dawn, mostly catching voles.
They are most vocal during the breeding season with pairs making a low-pitched series of “hoos” that last between 6 and 8 seconds and have a 30-second pause between the calls. They will also make soft double hoots when protecting their territories or when humans feed them; females have higher-pitched voices than males.
13. Northern Saw-whet Owl
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
Northern saw-whet owls are found around forests of Minnesota throughout the year.
Named after their loud and repetitive whistles described as “a saw being sharpened on a whetstone”, their calling peaks around 2 hours after sunset and decreases until just before sunrise.
Listen for the tooting advertising song of males, a repeated “toot-toot-toot.” They give a variety of other calls, and later in the season, juveniles produce a raspy, hissing call.
The compound called porphyrin makes their flight feathers unique – the pigment gives them a neon pink fluorescence when exposed to UV light.
14. Pied-billed Grebe
- Scientific Name: Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebes, small and stocky water birds, are common around marshes and ponds of Minnesota. Nocturnal by nature, you can hear their loud, whooping, cuckoo-like songs during the night, often duetting with their mates.
Their brown plumage, darkening on the crown and back, provides effective camouflage, making them a bit challenging to spot.
15. Eastern Whip-poor-will
- Scientific Name: Antrostomus vociferus
Eastern whip-poor-wills visit eastern Minnesota during the breeding season. These cryptic nocturnal birds are heard more often than seen. They hide during the day, typically in pine barrens and forest openings.
At dawn and dusk, they begin singing their famous “whip-poor-will” song. Male whip-poor-wills make calls to mark their breeding territory and to attract a mate.
Eastern whip-poor-will Call | Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
16. Common Nighthawk
- Scientific Name: Chordeiles minor
During the summer breeding season in Minnesota, common nighthawks can be heard singing at dawn and dusk. These medium-sized raptors with forked tails and long wings can be found in prairies, forests, savannahs, and urban areas.
These birds create a distinct peent sound and perform courtship displays with rapid dives that produce a booming sound as air rushes over their wings.
Common Nighthawk Call | Source: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Common nighthawks are well-camouflaged during the day, with gray, black, and brown plumage and white patches near the base of their primary feathers.
17. Common Gallinule
- Scientific Name: Gallinula galeata
Common gallinules are medium-sized marsh birds with dark plumage, white undertails, red frontal plates on their heads, and distinctive long legs and toes.
In central and southern parts of the state, they are most common during the summer breeding season and prefer freshwater wetlands with open water and emergent vegetation.
Most active during dawn and dusk, they become more vocal from April to June during the breeding season. Listen for their “marsh chicken sound” and single “clucks,” which are their most commonly heard calls.
18. American Coot
- Scientific Name: Fulica americana
American coots are small water birds with black plumage, bright white beaks, red eyes, and yellow-green legs.
Although they resemble ducks, American coots are only distantly related to them. These summer residents of Minnesota can be heard in freshwater wetlands with open water and emergent vegetation around dawn and dusk.
They produce a sharp “poot” call and a screeching “kree” sound, and they are particularly noisy swimmers, so you may also recognize them by splashing water sounds.
19. Black-crowned Night Heron
- Scientific Name: Nycticorax nycticorax
Black-crowned night herons can be heard around wooded swamps, ponds, lakes, and mangroves in southern MN during summer evenings.
Unlike many other herons, they’re active at night or dusk and also migrate in flocks during the night. Their name “Nycticorax” means “night raven” in Greek, reflecting their nocturnal habits and crow-like calls.
These herons often bait fish, luring prey with thrown food before striking with their long beaks.
Read More: Examples of nighttime birds in Virginia
- Scientific name: Seiurus aurocapilla
Ovenbirds sing regularly at night in eastern Minnesota but at a relatively low song rate.
Lister for their territorial rapid, resounding “tea-cher, tea-cher” song consisting of 8-13 phrases. They also have several short calls, including the “ple-bleep,” “whink,” and high “tsip.”
Ovenbird Song | Source: G McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ovenbirds got their name from the nest they built called the “oven” – it is a dome-like structure placed on the ground with a side entrance that makes it resemble a Dutch oven.
What Birds Sing At Night In Minnesota?
The most common birds that sing at night in Minnesota are northern mockingbirds.
Mockingbirds singing all night are often young, unattached males or older males without a mate. In case you want to stop their nighttime singing, try to cover your tree with bird netting or add an owl/hawk cardboard cutout to scare them away.
You might have also heard American robins and their cheery carol or barn owls and their bone-chilling screams.
Minnesota’s rich avifauna is brimming with nocturnal birds. Some can be seen year-round there, like several owl species and northern mockingbirds, while others, like black-crowned night herons and common nighthawks, visit the state only to breed.
In case you’ve stumbled upon or heard any of these birds, we hope this guide helped you identify which ones they were.