Indiana is famous for its rich avifauna – there are over 420 bird species there with a number of those being very active during the night!
Examples of nocturnal birds in Indiana include the common nighthawk, American woodcock, black-crowned night heron, barn owl, northern mockingbird, 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 Indiana
1. American Woodcock
- Scientific Name: Scolopax minor
American woodcocks are fascinating birds that can be pretty tough to spot. These little guys like to hang out in fields and clearings next to young forests, especially those with a bit of scattered cover. You’ll find them in Indiana during the summer.
The best time to catch a glimpse of them is during dawn and dusk, like right after the sun sets and just before it rises. When you’re on the lookout for these woodcocks, head to fields near the woods, and keep an eye out for powerline cuts – those are great spots to check.
Because they’re night owls and like to keep a low profile, they’re not the easiest to find. They’ve got subtle colors, and they’re pretty sneaky. But you can recognize them by their unique “peent” call, which they make from the ground, or the twittering sound they make in the air.
Every night from March to May, male birds will perform their impressive courtship flights just after sunset.
2. Wilson’s Snipe
- Scientific Name: Gallinago delicata
Just like American woodcocks, Wilson’s snipes also hang out in wet grassy fields, sedge marshes, and bogs. You’ll often find them in south-central Indiana during the spring and fall, and they’re most active at dawn and dusk.
To spot these snipes, keep your ears open for their “tuk-tuk” call, which you can hear either from the ground or from low perches.
What’s cool about them is their winnowing display flight. It’s quite interesting!
You can hear it up in the sky, and it lasts longer than the woodcock’s display flight. The males do this thing where they fly high in circles and then make shallow dives, creating a unique sound. You can catch them doing this late into the night.
Read More: What birds chirp at night in SC?
3. Eastern Screech-Owl
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
Eastern screech owls are small, stout owls with prominent features like big heads, large yellow eyes, and small ear tufts that they often raise. They also have horn-colored beaks. These owls are known for being strictly active at night.
In Indiana, you can find Eastern Screech-Owls as year-round residents, especially in woodlands near water and at lower elevations.
They’re most chatty close to sunset and tend to quiet down as the night goes on. You’ll hear them more frequently during full moons and before storms. Pay attention to their “whinny” and trilling tremolo calls – those are the ones to listen for. And during June to August, you might catch the sound of young ones hissing.
4. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
Great horned owls are among the largest birds in Indiana, measuring nearly 2 feet long and weighing up to 3.5 pounds. You can spot them in the state all year round.
These owls like open areas such as fields and marshes near mature forests. They tend to get most chatty for about an hour after dark and another hour before dawn.
When they vocalize, great horned owls make deep, resonant sounds like “ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo” with four or five syllables. The female owl’s call is a bit higher in pitch and is more active after midnight.
During winter or spring, they might even engage in a duet. The territorial hooting tends to decrease around February or March when they start laying eggs. In the summer, you might hear their unique juvenile begging call, which can be sometimes confused with the calls of barn owls.
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5. Barn Owl
- Scientific Name: Tyto alba
In Indiana, one of the most striking sounds you can hear at night is the loud and harsh call of barn owls. These owls are permanent residents and can be found in open areas year-round.
Barn owls are medium-sized with distinct features like heart-shaped heads, cinnamon and gray upperparts, and white underparts. They might appear quite ghostly, especially when spotted at night, as that’s when they’re most active.
Unlike some other owls, barn owls don’t hoot; they make bone-chilling screams instead.
They are quite common in the USA and are among many night birds that can be seen in Oregon.
6. Barred Owl
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
Barred owls are year-round residents of Indiana, often found in dense forests, especially near water. They’re active throughout the night and known for their distinctive “who-cooks-for-you” song and “hoo-ahhh” call.
These sizable owls have a mottled brown and white appearance, with yellow beaks, no ear tufts, and large, almost black eyes. They might also engage in duets, and their young ones produce a high-pitched raspy hissing noise, which is a clear sign if you hear it in a specific area.
7. Long-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio otus
Long-eared owls are rather elusive birds that prefer open forests, marshy areas, and dense coniferous woods. These owls are secretive, nocturnal, and have excellent camouflage.
You can recognize them by their gray-brown bodies adorned with pale bars and heavy streaks on their undersides. These birds start their activities shortly after dusk and stay active throughout the night.
While they don’t make a lot of noise, they do have unique calls. The male’s song consists of low-pitched “hoo” notes, somewhat like the sound of blowing across a bottle. You can hear this vocalization during Indiana’s winter nights.
Another good way to identify them is by their distinctive juvenile begging call. However, be cautious, as distant barking dogs or mooing cows can sometimes sound similar to long-eared owls.
8. Short-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
Short-eared owls are a remarkably widespread bird species, found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.
In Indiana, these nocturnal owls are quite the winter residents, favoring open grasslands like weedy fields, grassy strips near small airports, coastal marshes, and sometimes even agricultural fields with stubble. Some of them might even breed in the northernmost parts of the state.
These owls sport a mottled brown appearance on their upper side and whitish feathers below. They’re also distinguished by their short ear tufts and black beaks. Their large yellow eyes, framed by black rings, give them a striking appearance, almost like they’re wearing mascara!
While they’re mostly quiet, during the breeding season, short-eared owls may break their silence with a series of “voo-hoo-hoo” calls.
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).
9. Northern Saw-whet Owl
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
Northern saw-whet owls have a mottled brown appearance with white-spotted heads, distinctive whitish facial disks, yellow eyes, and notably, no ear tufts. These owls are typically winter residents in the state, though some populations stick around year-round in the northern regions.
One fascinating feature about them is a compound called porphyrin, which makes their flight feathers special. When exposed to UV light, this pigment causes their feathers to glow with a neon pink fluorescence.
Now, these owls earned their name from their loud and repetitive whistles, often described as “a saw being sharpened on a whetstone.” They tend to be most vocal around 2 hours after sunset, and their calling dwindles just before sunrise.
If you’re trying to identify them, listen for the tooting advertising song of the males, which is a repeated “toot-toot-toot.” They also make a variety of other calls, and later in the season, the juveniles produce a raspy, hissing call.
10. Pied-billed Grebe
- Scientific Name: Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebes are compact, short-necked water birds that found home across the Americas, including Indiana. They’re breeding residents in the state and stand out with their brown plumage, which darkens on the crown and back. While these colors provide excellent camouflage, it does make them a bit tricky to spot.
You’ll often find them in marshes and ponds with emergent vegetation. These birds stay active throughout the night, and if you listen closely, you might catch their distinctive, whooping, cuckoo-like song. Sometimes, pairs even sing together in a duet.
11. Common Nighthawk
- Scientific Name: Chordeiles minor
Common nighthawks, medium-sized raptors with forked tails and long, pointed wings, are a familiar sight in Indiana during the summer breeding season. These birds are both crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (active at night).
You can spot common nighthawks in various environments, from prairies and forests to urban areas. They become lively during the transition between day and night, particularly when there’s a visible moon. Listen for their unique “peent” sound and watch for their courtship displays, which involve rapid dives that create a booming sound as the air rushes over their wings.
Common Nighthawk Call | Source: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Keep in mind that these birds are masters of camouflage during the day, blending in with their surroundings. Their plumage typically features shades of gray, black, and brown, with white stripes on their wings near the base of the primary feathers.
- Scientific Name: Antrostomus carolinensis
Chuck-will’s-widows are sizable nocturnal birds known for their big heads, short bills, and long tails. Their plumage can range from grayish to rufous, featuring intricate patterns that help them blend seamlessly into the trees.
You’ll come across chuck-will’s-widows in the pine barrens and swamp edges of southern Indiana. These birds have a distinctive “chuck-will’s-widow” song, with males being most vocal in April and May, quieter in June, and then becoming more expressive again in July and August. On nights with a full or nearly full moon, their singing might continue all night.
Chuck-will’s-widow Call | Source: James G. Howes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
If you’ve been driving at night, you might have spotted them in your headlights. These birds have a peculiar habit of sitting on roads and roadsides after dark.
13. Eastern Whip-poor-will
- Scientific Name: Antrostomus vociferus
During the breeding season, you can spot eastern whip-poor-wills in the southern regions of Indiana. These birds have mottled plumage, a mix of brown, black, and gray, which works as excellent camouflage in their surroundings.
Eastern whip-poor-wills are cryptic and nocturnal, making them easier to hear than to see. They tend to remain still and sleep during the day. Keep an eye out for them in pine barrens and forest openings, where they serenade with their distinctive “whip-poor-will” song at both dawn and dusk.
Eastern whip-poor-will Call | Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
These birds do their hunting at night, feasting on flying insects they capture from the ground. It’s worth noting that Eastern whip-poor-wills bear a strong resemblance to common nighthawks, but you can differentiate the two by their behavior and their characteristic calls.
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14. Common Gallinule
- Scientific Name: Gallinula galeata
Common gallinules are medium-sized marsh birds known for their small heads, thin necks, small bills, and long legs and toes. You can spot them by their dark plumage with white undertails and the distinctive red frontal plates on their heads.
These birds make their homes in freshwater wetlands that have open water and emergent vegetation. When you’re near them, listen for the “marsh chicken sound” and the occasional “clucks” – these are the sounds you’ll most frequently hear.
Common gallinules tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, and they grace Indiana with their presence during the summer breeding season.
15. American Coot
- Scientific Name: Fulica americana
American coots are small waterbirds that sport striking black plumage, bright white beaks, red eyes, and yellow-green legs. Their features include rounded heads, sloping foreheads, short wings and tails, and notably large feet.
Although they might resemble ducks, American coots are quite distantly related to them. During the summer, you’ll find these birds as residents in the northern parts of Indiana, where they can be seen and heard in freshwater wetlands with open water and emergent vegetation, from dusk to dawn.
When they vocalize, you might catch their sharp “poot” call and a screeching “kree” sound. What’s interesting is that they are rather noisy swimmers, so you could recognize them by the sounds of splashing water.
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16. Virginia Rail
- Scientific Name: Rallus limicola
Virginia rails are compact aquatic birds with brown plumage, which is notably darker on their backs and crowns. What makes them stand out are their distinctive orange-brown bills and legs.
In northern Indiana, they breed in marshes. These secretive birds are often heard making harsh “kuk-kuk-kuk” calls during the night, while their “grunt” calls help them communicate with their mates.
To move through dense vegetation, they’ve evolved a body with lateral compression and sturdy forehead feathers that can withstand the abrasion of pushing through thick growth. Given their elusive nature, you’re more likely to hear them than see them.
It’s common to find them alongside soras. The short-billed soras mostly feed on seeds, while the long-billed Virginia rails have a preference for insects.
- Scientific Name: Porzana carolina
Soras are small waterbirds that make their presence known during the summer in the central and northern parts of Indiana. To spot them, look for their short yellow beaks, dark-marked brown upperparts, blue-gray faces and underparts, and the distinctive black and white barrings on their flanks.
These birds are often found around wetlands with cattails and patches of open water. Listen for their descending “whinny” call, which they use for communication between mated pairs and when establishing their territories. When it’s time to attract mates, they switch to a “ker-wee” call. They’re most active during the transition between dawn and dusk.
Your best chances to catch a glimpse of soras are early in the mornings or late in the evenings when they venture out from the thick plants in search of food.
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18. American Bittern
- Scientific Name: Botaurus lentiginosus
American bitterns are wading birds from the heron family. These well-camouflaged solitary birds breed throughout Indiana before departing to US Gulf Coast states, all of Florida into the Everglades, the Caribbean islands, and parts of Central America. 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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19. Least Bittern
- Scientific Name: Ixobrychus exilis
Least bitterns are among the world’s smallest heron species and are a common sight in Indiana during the summer. You can spot them by their long legs, daggerlike bills, and distinctive orange, black, and white plumage.
These birds are typically found around marshes that have a blend of open water and vegetation, often with cattails, phragmites, or lily pads. To identify the males, listen for their soft “coo-coo-coo” and “reek-reek-reek” calls.
Least bitterns are more active at dawn and dusk, but they tend to be less vocal when the weather is windy or rainy.
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20. Black-crowned Night Heron
- Scientific Name: Nycticorax nycticorax
Black-crowned night herons, also known as black-capped night herons, are among the most widespread heron species.
In Indiana, you can find them during the summer, particularly in the central and northern parts of the state. They tend to favor areas like wooded swamps, ponds, lakes, and mangroves. Some of these birds even stay put year-round in the southern regions.
What sets them apart from most heron relatives is their nocturnal behavior; black-crowned night herons are most active at night or during dusk.
Not only nocturnal but also quite vocal, these herons make crow-like croaking calls. They migrate during the night and the term “Nycticorax” in their scientific name comes from ancient Greek and means “night raven,” which references their nocturnal feeding habits.
They have a unique hunting strategy – they often bait fish, enticing their prey with a bit of food before striking with their long beaks.
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21. Yellow-crowned Night Heron
- Scientific Name: Nyctanassa violacea
Yellow-crowned night herons are robust wading birds with long necks, sizable heads, and hefty black beaks. These imposing blue birds get their name from the pale yellow crowns atop their heads.
When it comes to making their presence known, they are quite vocal. Their most common alarm call is a loud and sharp “quawk.” During courtship, both males and females may use “yup-yup” and “huh” calls.
Despite the occasional daytime appearance, yellow-crowned night herons are strictly creatures of the night. They typically roost in trees during the day and venture out to feed during the night, with a preference for meals like crabs and crayfish.
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22. Northern Mockingbird
- Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
Northern mockingbirds are known for their nighttime singing in Indiana. These nocturnal performers are typically young, unattached males or older males without mates.
If you want to curb their constant singing, you can try to add a bird net to your tree or attract a female mockingbird to your backyard.
These birds are year-round residents in Indiana, and they can be found in various habitats. Their Latin name, which means “many-tongued mimic,” is well-deserved. Northern mockingbirds can mimic the songs of up to 35 species and learn over 200 different songs in their lifetime!
They’re adept at mimicking various sounds, from rusty hinges and car alarms to cackling hens and dog barks. Their imitation is so precise that it’s challenging to distinguish from the real thing, even with 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
To spot them, look for their gray plumage with whitish underparts and long tails. When they take flight, you’ll notice large white patches on their black wings and tails.
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23. Yellow-breasted Chat
- Scientific Name: Icteria virens
Yellow-breasted chats are sizeable songbirds known for their olive-green plumage, bright yellow breasts, and striking facial markings. While they migrate to Mexico and Central America for the winter, they’re often heard singing during the morning, evening, and even at night in the height of the breeding season during the summer in Southern Indiana.
These birds are more commonly heard than seen, and they favor dense, brushy areas and hedgerows. In their songs, you’ll notice a unique blend of cackles, clucks, whistles, and hoots, along with their harsh “chak” calls.
Yellow-breasted chats have a talent for mimicking other birds, which can sometimes confuse birders. 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 Indiana?
The most common birds that sing at night in Indiana 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.
Indiana’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 yellow-breasted chats, American woodcocks, 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.
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