Alabama is famous for its rich avifauna – there are over 450 bird species there with a number of those being very active during the night! These nighttime birds can stay safe from daytime predators, hunt for food in the dark, and use the unique conditions of the night to their benefit.
Examples of nocturnal birds in Alabama include the common nighthawk, American woodcock, black-crowned night heron, barn owl, and many others.
Do some of them sound familiar? Let’s jump in and see what each of these looks and sounds like!
Table of Contents
Night Birds In Alabama
1. American Woodcock
- Scientific Name: Scolopax minor
American woodcocks are unique and elusive birds found in fields and clearings adjacent to young forests, particularly those with some scattered cover. These small shorebirds are found year-round throughout Alabama.
The best time to observe them is during dawn and dusk, for about 45 minutes after sunset and before sunrise. When searching for woodcocks, focus on fields next to forests, with powerline cuts being excellent spots to target.
Because of their nocturnal lifestyle, inconspicuous colors, and low-profile behaviors, American woodcocks are usually very hard to spot.
You can recognize them by their distinctive “peent” call which is given from the ground or the twittering that can be heard from the air.
2. Wilson’s Snipe
- Scientific Name: Gallinago delicata
Much like American woodcocks, Wilson’s snipes prefer wet grassy fields, sedge marshes, and bogs. They are winter residents in Alabama and their activity peaks during dawn and dusk.
To locate them, listen for their “tuk-tuk” call, which can be heard from the ground or low perches.
Their winnowing display flight is very interesting and can be heard overhead, with a longer duration compared to woodcock display flights. Males will fly high in circles and then take shallow dives to produce a distinctive sound. This behavior can be spotted during the day and long into the night.
3. Eastern Screech-Owl
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
Eastern screech owls are small and stocky owls with big heads, large yellow eyes, often-raised small ear tufts, and horn-colored beaks. Out of all North American owls, they are the most strictly nocturnal.
Eastern Screech-Owls are permanent residents of Alabama typically found in woodlands, especially near water and at lower elevations.
They are most vocal close to sunset and become quieter as the night progresses. Their calls are more frequent around full moons and before storms. Key calls to listen for include the characteristic “whinny” and trilling tremolo calls. In June-August, keep an ear out for juvenile hissing sounds.
4. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
Great horned owls are one of the biggest birds in Alabama. They measure almost 2 feet long, weigh up to 3.5 pounds, and can be found throughout the year in the state.
These owls prefer open areas like fields and marshes near mature forests. They become most vocal for an hour after dark and an hour before dawn.
Great horned owls make deep, loud “ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo” sounds that can have four or five syllables. The female owl’s call is higher-pitched, and it tends to peak after midnight.
In winter or spring, they often sing in a duet. Territorial hooting tends to decrease in February or March when they start laying eggs. In summer, the distinctive juvenile begging call can sometimes be confused with the calls of barn owls.
5. Barn Owl
- Scientific Name: Tyto alba
One of the most widely distributed species of owl in the world, barn owls are permanent residents of Alabama.
These medium-sized owls have heart-shaped heads, cinnamon and gray upperparts, and white underparts. They often have a “ghostly” appearance, especially if seen at night, around open habitats, including grasslands, marshes, and agricultural areas.
Barn owls do not hoot and make bone-chilling screams instead. They hunt for rodents during the night and roost in nest boxes, caves, tree hollows, and old buildings.
6. Barred Owl
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
Barred owls are year-round residents of Alabama, commonly found in dense deciduous or mixed forests, particularly near water.
They are active throughout the night and are known for their “who-cooks-for-you” song and “hoo-ahhh” call. They will duet, and their juveniles make a high-pitched raspy hissing noise, an automatic confirmation if it’s heard in a specific block.
7. Long-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio otus
Long-eared owls are elusive birds that can be found in open forests, marshy areas, and dense coniferous woods. These secretive, nocturnal, and well-camouflaged owls have gray-brown bodies with pale bars and heavy streaks on their underparts.
They become active shortly after dusk throughout the night. Long-eared owls don’t vocalize often but have distinct calls. The male’s song is a low-pitched series of “hoo” notes, similar to the sound of blowing across a bottle.
The distinctive juvenile begging call is also a good indicator, but caution is needed as distant barking dogs or mooing cows can sound like long-eared owls.
8. Short-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
Short-eared owls are found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia, making them one of the most widespread bird species. Similar to long-eared owls, these nocturnal owls can be seen throughout the state during winter, in open grasslands, including weedy fields, grass strips of small airports, coastal marshes, and even agricultural fields with stubble.
Short-eared owls are mottled brown above, whitish below, and have very short ear tufts and black beaks. They also have large yellow eyes that are accentuated by black rings, making them look like they are wearing mascara!
Although mostly silent, short-eared owls will make a series of “voo-hoo-hoo” calls during the breeding season.
They are generally nocturnal when most of the hunting happens, but they can also be crepuscular (active near dawn and dusk) and even diurnal (to a much lesser extent).
Read More: List of nocturnal birds of Louisiana
9. Northern Saw-whet Owl
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
Northern saw-whet owls are mottled brown with white-spotted heads, whitish facial disks, yellow eyes, and lack of ear tufts. They are winter residents in the state but not in large numbers.
The compound called porphyrin makes their flight feathers unique – the pigment gives their feathers a neon pink fluorescence when exposed to UV light.
Northern saw-whet owls were 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.
These owls prefer swamps with red maple and tamarack trees, as well as forests with many snags, ideally coniferous.
10. Pied-billed Grebe
- Scientific Name: Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebes are small, stocky, and short-necked water birds found throughout the Americas. They are permanent residents in AL and can be identified by their brown plumage that gets darker on the crown and back. Such colors serve as great camouflage but make it harder to spot them.
These birds are commonly found in marshes and ponds with emergent vegetation and are active throughout the night. Listen for their loud, whooping, cuckoo-like song, with pairs sometimes singing together in a duet.
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11. Common Nighthawk
- Scientific Name: Chordeiles minor
These medium-sized birds with forked tails and long, pointed wings are crepuscular and nocturnal raptors found throughout Alabama during the summer breeding season.
Common nighthawks are common in prairies, forests, savannahs, and urban areas, and are active during dawn and dusk with a visible moon. They produce a distinct peent sound and engage in courtship displays with rapid dives creating a booming sound as air passes over wings.
Common Nighthawk Call | Source: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Keep in mind that common nighthawks are well-camouflaged and blend with the environment during the day. Their plumage is usually gray, black, and brown with white patches on their wings close to the base of primary feathers.
- Scientific Name: Antrostomus carolinensis
Chuck-will’s-widows are large night birds with big heads, short bills, and long tails. Their plumage varies from grayish to rufous with intricate patterns, camouflaging them well in the trees.
Chuck-will’s-widows are found in pine barrens and edges of swamps. They sing their “chuck-will’s-widow” songs, with males being most active in April-May, quieter in June, and more vocal again in July and August. Singing may continue all night on days of a full or near-full moon.
Chuck-will’s-widow Call | Source: James G. Howes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
You might have spotted them in your headlights while driving as they love to sit on the roads and roadsides at night.
13. Eastern Whip-poor-will
- Scientific Name: Antrostomus vociferus
Eastern whip-poor-wills can be seen in northern parts of Alabama during the breeding season. They have mottled plumage with a mixture of brown, black, and gray that camouflages them well with their environment.
These cryptic nocturnal birds are easier to hear than to see as they remain motionless and sleep during the day. Look for them around pine barrens and forest openings where they sing their namesake “whip-poor-will” song at dawn and dusk.
Eastern whip-poor-will Call | Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
They hunt at night, feeding on flying insects they catch from the ground. Eastern whip-poor-wills closely resemble common nighthawks – the two can be differentiated by their behavior and characteristic call.
14. Common Gallinule
- Scientific Name: Gallinula galeata
Common gallinules are medium-sized marsh birds with small heads, thin necks, small bills, and long legs and toes. Notice their dark plumage with white undertails and red frontal plates on their heads.
Common gallinules are found in freshwater wetlands with open water and emergent vegetation. Listen for the ‘marsh chicken sound‘ and single ‘clucks,’ which are the most frequently heard sounds.
They are mostly active at dawn and dusk.
15. American Coot
- Scientific Name: Fulica americana
American coots are small chickenlike waterbirds with black plumage, bright white beaks, red eyes, and yellow-green legs. They also have rounded heads, sloping foreheads, short wings and tails, and large feet.
Although they resemble ducks, American coots are only distantly related to them. These winter residents of Alabama can be seen and heard in freshwater wetlands with open water and emergent vegetation.
They produce a sharp “poot” call and a screeching “kree” sound, and they are particularly noisy swimmers, so you may recognize them by splashing water sounds. They are most active around dawn and dusk.
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16. American Bittern
- Scientific Name: Botaurus lentiginosus
American bitterns are wading birds from the heron family. These well-camouflaged solitary birds winter in southern parts of Alabama before departing north to breed. They are mainly nocturnal with most of the activity happening around dusk.
These birds prefer large cattail or sedge marshes and wet meadows. More often heard than seen, American bitterns have a distinctive booming call that resembles a congested pump that people describe as “oong-kach-oonk.“
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17. Least Bittern
- Scientific Name: Ixobrychus exilis
Least bitterns are one of the smallest heron species in the world. They can be seen in Alabama during summer and can be identified by their long legs, daggerlike bills, and orange, black, and white plumage.
Least bitterns are common around marshes with a mix of open water and vegetation, often with cattails, phragmites, or lily pads. Males can be recognized by their soft “coo-coo-coo” and “reek-reek-reek” calls.
They are more active at dawn and dusk and less vocal in windy or rainy conditions.
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18. Black-crowned Night Heron
- Scientific Name: Nycticorax nycticorax
Black-crowned night herons, also known as black-capped night herons, are one of the most widespread heron species in the world. In Alabama, they can be seen in central and southern parts of the state, especially around wooded swamps, ponds, lakes, and mangroves.
Unlike most of their heron relatives, black-crowned night herons are most active at night or at dusk. They will often bait fish – throw some food in the water to lure the prey before striking with their long beaks.
These nocturnal and noisy herons will also migrate in large flocks exclusively during the night. Part of their scientific name “Nycticorax” comes from ancient Greek and means “night raven”, referring to their nocturnal feeding habits and croaking crow-like calls.
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19. Yellow-crowned Night Heron
- Scientific Name: Nyctanassa violacea
Yellow-crowned night herons are stocky wading birds with long necks, large heads, and long heavy black beaks. These enormous blue birds were named after the pale yellow crowns on their heads.
Yellow-crowned night herons are vocal birds with many sounds. Their most common alarm call is a loud and sharp “quawk.” Males and females may also use “yup-yup” and “huh” calls during courtship.
Despite being occasionally seen during the day, yellow-crowned night herons are strictly nocturnal birds. They tend to roost in trees during the day and feed during the night, mainly on crabs and crayfish.
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20. Northern Mockingbird
- Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
Northern mockingbirds are usually the ones responsible for late-night singing sessions you hear in Alabama.
The birds that sing through the night are often young, unattached males or older males without a mate. To stop their constant singing, you can try to attract a female mockingbird to your backyard.
They are year-round residents of Alabama, seen in all sorts of habitats. The Latin name of these birds translates to “many-tongued mimic,” and for a reason – northern mockingbirds can imitate chirps of up to 35 species and learn over 200 different songs in their lifetime!
They can mimic sounds of rusty hinges, car alarms, cackling hens, and dog barks; they can mimic so well that it’s hard to tell a difference even with an electronic analysis.
Northern mockingbirds have four recognized calls: the nest relief call, hew call, chat, and the begging call.
Northern Mockingbird Call | Source: Sandtouch Limited Company, a Texas limited liability company, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
You will easily identify them in person by their gray plumage with whitish underparts and long tails. In case you see one while it’s flying, notice the large white patches on its black wings and tails.
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21. Yellow-breasted Chat
- Scientific Name: Icteria virens
Yellow-breasted chats are large songbirds with olive-green plumage, bright yellow breasts, and bold face markings. They migrate to Mexico and Central America during winter but can be often heard singing in the morning and evening (even at night during the height of the breeding season) during summer in Alabama.
Often heard than seen, they are common around dense, brushy areas and hedgerows. These birds have a unique mix of cackles, clucks, whistles, and hoots in their songs, along with harsh “chak” calls.
They can mimic other birds, sometimes confusing birdwatchers. During the breeding season, they become more conspicuous, singing from exposed spots and flying openly while gurgling their songs.
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What Birds Sing At Night In Alabama?
The most common birds that sing at night in Alabama 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 attract a female mockingbird to your yard.
You might have also heard yellow-breasted chats singing in the darkness as they call out to the females, or even barn owls and their bone-chilling screams.
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Alabama’s rich avifauna is brimming with nocturnal birds. Some can be seen year-round there, like several owl species and American woodcocks, while others, like yellow-breasted chats, least bitterns, 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.