Texas has a rich avifauna with over 660 bird species – many of those are very active during the night!
Examples of nocturnal birds in Texas include the black-crowned night heron, short-eared owl, spotted owl, common nighthawk, common pauraque, Chuck-will’s-widow, and many others.
Do some of them sound familiar? Let’s jump straight in and see what each of these looks and sounds like!
Nocturnal Birds In Texas
Black-crowned Night Heron
- Scientific Name: Nycticorax nycticorax
- Length: 22.8-26 in
- Wingspan: 45.3-46.5 in
- Weight: 25.6-35.8 oz
These pale grayish herons with large heads, black caps, short legs, and red eyes, often hold their short necks tucked in which gives an impression of a stocky build.
Black-crowned night herons, also known as black-capped night herons, are one of the most widespread heron species in the world. In Texas, they can be seen throughout the state, especially around wooded swamps, ponds, lakes, and mangroves.
Unlike most of their long-legged heron relatives, black-crowned night herons are most active at night or at dusk, when they feed on fish, frogs, small mammals, young waterbirds, insects, snakes, and even garbage at landfills.
Black-crowned night herons are one of several heron species that will bait fish – throw some food in the water to lure the fish before striking them 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.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
- Scientific Name: Nyctanassa violacea
- Length: 21.6-27.6 in
- Wingspan: 39.7-44 in
- Weight: 1.4-1.8 lb
Yellow-crowned night herons are stocky wading birds with long necks, large heads, and long heavy black beaks.
These enormous blue birds can have a wingspan of up to 3 ft 8 in and weigh up to 1.8 pounds.
Yellow-crowned night herons are smooth gray-blue with bold black-and-white head patterns. They also have pale yellow crowns on their heads, giving them their common name.
Yellow-crowned night herons can be seen in Texas during their breeding season which is typically between March and May.
They 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 mainly nocturnal birds.
They tend to roost in trees during the day and feed during the night, mainly on crabs and crayfish.
They can be often seen walking slowly or standing still in shallow waters, waiting for their prey to approach. Yellow-crowned night herons might also consume some insects, fish, worms, lizards, snakes, small rodents, and even small birds.
They are one of many bird species found in San Antonio, Tx.
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
- Length: 13-17 in
- Wingspan: 33-43 in
- Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Short-eared owls are found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia, making them one of the most widespread bird species.
In Texas, 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).
These owls are migratory birds that feed mostly on voles, rats, bats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, and some birds.
Fun Fact: Short-eared owls are fearless birds that will often harass falcons, herons, and eagles, just for fun!
- Scientific Name: Asio otus
- Length: 12-16 in
- Wingspan: 34-40 in
- Weight: 9-15 oz
These secretive, nocturnal, and well-camouflaged owls can be seen in Texas during winter, mostly in the northern parts of the state.
If you live in Texas, the best way to identify them would be to listen for their calls – males can be extremely vocal and emit hoots that can be heard from over half a mile away.
Also known as northern long-eared owls, lesser horned owls, or cat owls, these medium-sized owls with long ear tufts inhabit brushy thickets, conifer groves, and semi-open areas.
North American long-eared owls have yellow eyes, while their Eurasian counterparts have orange-reddish ones.
Long-eared owls also have gray-brown bodies with pale bars and heavy streaks on their underparts.
They are specialized hunters, focusing entirely on small rodents. For example, in Japan, long-eared owls primarily consume Japanese grass voles, gray red-backed voles, and house mice.
You can read more about the other 11 owl species found in Japan here.
- Scientific Name: Megascops kennicottii
- Length: 8.7 in
- Wingspan: 22 in
- Weight: 5 oz
These small owls with stocky bodies can be seen in western parts of Texas year-round.
Part of their scientific name “kennicottii” is after the American naturalist Robert Kennicott.
Western screech owls have gray plumage with black and white streaks, short ear tufts, and yellow eyes.
The species are nocturnal, often seen sitting on perches before swooping down and catching their prey. They mostly feed on insects, small mammals, and birds – listen for their series of whistled notes that accelerate at the end that are given at night.
Western screech owls can be found in different wooded habitats, but mostly prefer riparian and deciduous areas; also in urban areas and parks.
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
- Length: 6.3-10 in
- Wingspan: 18-24 in
- Weight: 4-8 oz
Eastern screech owls are small and stocky owls with big heads, large yellow eyes, often-raised small ear tufts, and horn-colored beaks.
In Texas, they are found statewide, except in the westernmost parts, around different habitats with trees and near water.
Eastern screech-owls are easier to hear than to see – they are most active at night when they hunt insects, small mammals, and birds. Their big eyes and sharp vision come in very handy for picking up small movements at night.
Out of all North American owls, they are the most strictly nocturnal.
Eastern screech-owls come in two colors: mostly gray or mostly reddish-brown – regardless of the overall color, they are patterned with complex bands and spots that help camouflage the birds against tree bark.
These owls are one of the most common birds found in northern Georgia.
- Scientific Name: Glaucidium brasilianum
- Length: 6.5-7 in
- Wingspan: 14.5-16 in
- Weight: 2.2-2.7 oz
Ferruginous pygmy-owls are crepuscular and nocturnal birds found in southern Texas.
These small owls are common in various semi-open wooded areas where they hunt for insects, mammals, birds, lizards, etc.
Ferruginous pygmy owls can be also located by a group of small birds mobbing them while perched in a tree (scientists have recorded 11 different species mobbing a single owl).
Their plumage might vary from rusty to grayish; all morphs have fine whitish streaks on the crowns and narrow dark tail bars.
Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
- Length: 17-25 in
- Wingspan: 35.8-60.2 in
- Weight: 2.7-3.5 lb
The majestic great horned owl is the largest owl in Texas measuring almost two feet in length. It can be found throughout the year in the state.
It is also the largest owl in North America and lives in mountains, grasslands, conifer forests, deserts, chaparrals, and many other habitats.
The great horned owl has the most diverse diet of all North American raptors. An aggressive and excellent hunter, this big bird feeds on rabbits, hares, rats, mice, voles, other small mammals, larger mid-sized mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
It might occasionally even attack larger prey, including raptors such as ospreys, Peregrine falcons, prairie falcons, and other owls.
It hunts during the night using its acute hearing and excellent eyesight and can fly in near silence to catch the prey by surprise. In case you see a great horned owl in person, you will notice long, earlike tufts, intimidating yellow eyes, and a deep hooting call.
It has a gray-brown plumage with a mottled pattern and a white patch at the throat.
Great horned owls are monogamous birds and may stay together for over five years, sometimes even for a lifetime.
They are one of the earliest nesting birds in North America, often laying eggs weeks and months before other raptors. Typically well-camouflaged, these nocturnal owls are never easy to spot in the wild.
Interested to see what these owls would look like with blue eyes? Check this article.
- Scientific Name: Micrathene whitneyi
- Length: 4.9-5.7 in
- Wingspan: 10.5 in
- Weight: 1.4 oz
These tiny grayish-brown birds are found in the western parts of Texas during the breeding season.
In the state, they are most commonly found in the arid Big Bend and Trans-Pecos areas of the lower Chihuahuan desert.
With an average weight of 1.4 oz and a length of 4.9-5.7 in, elf owls are one of the world’s lightest and smallest owls. These birds are strictly nocturnal – look and listen for them along a quiet desert or canyon road at night.
Elf owls hunt during the night on insects such as grasshoppers and scorpions, and mice and lizards. They love to nest in old woodpecker holes, high in the trees where larger predators like coyotes, bobcats, and snakes can’t get them.
Elf owls are monogamous but mostly for one breeding season. Females incubate the eggs while males feed them – to protect their fledglings from danger, they will clap their beaks, make loud barking sounds, and move their tails.
- Scientific Name: Strix occidentalis
- Length: 17 in
- Wingspan: 45 in
- Weight: 1.3 lb
Spotted owls are species of true owls. These nocturnal birds are found in western parts of North America.
There are 3 subspecies and the one found in Texas is the Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida).
In the state, you will find these owls in the Guadalupe Mountains near the New Mexico border. They prefer the coolest parts of the forest, nesting at cliffs ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Identify spotted owls by their chestnut brown plumage with white and brown spots, white bands on the tails, and dark eyes.
The species hunt at night, jumping from one tree to another in pursuit of prey. Their diet includes insects, birds, pocket gophers, mice, and woodrats.
Due to habitat loss and competition with other owls, their population has been on the decline – the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed spotted owls as Near Threatened.
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
- Length: 16-25 in
- Wingspan: 38-49 in
- Weight: 1.3-2.5 lb
Known under several names (northern barred owls, striped owls, or more informally, hoot owls), barred owls are large birds with mottled brown and white plumage.
They can be identified by their yellow beaks, absence of ear tufts, and hoots that sound like “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” and that can be heard almost half a mile away. Barred owls also have large and dark brown, almost black eyes.
They are native to eastern North America – barred owls are non-migratory year-round residents of Texas, found in the eastern and coastal parts of the state.
They inhabit woods and swamps where they hunt for insects, small mammals, crayfish, and crabs.
Although mostly active at night, barred owls will also call and hunt during the day.
Barred owls will nest in tree holes or use abandoned nests of other animals, from red-tailed hawks to squirrels. After they establish nests, they become very territorial and aggressive – they will chase away intruders by hooting aggressively or attacking them with their sharp talons!
Northern Saw-whet Owl
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 6.7-8.7 in
- Wingspan: 16.5-22.2 in
- Weight: 1.9-5.3 oz
These small owls native to North America are often found around coniferous and deciduous forests. In northern parts of Texas, you might spot them during the non-breeding season.
With a length of 6.7-8.7 inches and a weight of 1.9-5.3 ounces, they are one of the smallest owl species there.
Northern saw-whet owls are mottled brown with white-spotted heads, whitish facial disks, yellow eyes, and lack of ear tufts.
What makes their flight feathers unique is the compound called porphyrin – 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 that are described as “a saw being sharpened on a whetstone”.
Strictly nocturnal and solitary, the species hunt at night from low perch and use sight and sound to locate their prey.
Northern saw-whet owls are carnivores and mostly feed on mice, voles, lemmings, small birds, and some insects.
- Scientific Name: Chordeiles acutipennis
- Length: 8-9.2 in
- Wingspan: 21.5 in
- Weight: 1.6-1.8 oz
These small nighthawks with rounded wings and fairly long notched tails can be often seen flying low over deserts and grasslands.
They belong to a group of nightjars, nocturnal birds with long wings that usually nest on the ground.
Lesser nighthawks are camouflaged by their “earthy” colored plumage and only in flight, can you see their distinctive bar across the wingtips. This stripe is white in males and cream-colored in females.
Lesser nighthawks resemble common nighthawks – the best way to distinguish them is by the position of the white wing patch: it is closer to the wingtip on the lesser and closer to the base of the wing on the common nighthawk.
Lesser nighthawks are known for their erratic, bat-like flying technique, graceful loops, and frequent direction changes during flight.
These birds breed across Northern and central California, Nevada, and southwestern Utah south across New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, and into Mexico.
Females will not make nests but lay eggs directly on the ground, using their camouflaged bodies to keep the eggs hidden. These birds are insectivores, feeding on flying insects, including beetles, moths, grasshoppers, but also ants, and termites.
To deal with the desert heat in their habitats, lesser nighthawks might enter torpor – a hibernation-like state.
They are most common in southwestern parts of Texas during the breeding season – lesser nighthawks will forage near dawn and dusk (crepuscular animals) or at night when there’s a full moon or street light nearby.
- Scientific Name: Chordeiles minor
- Length: 8.7-9.8 in
- Wingspan: 20-24 in
- Weight: 1.9-3.5 oz
These medium-sized birds with long, pointed wings and medium-long tails are crepuscular and nocturnal raptors found throughout Texas.
Common nighthawks are well-camouflaged to blend with the environment during the day. Their plumage is usually gray, black, and brown with white wing patches close to the base of primary feathers.
Source: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
There are 9 recognized subspecies of common nighthawks; 3 of them can be found in Texas. Those are C. m. howelli (in north Texas), C. m. aserriensis (in south central Texas), C. m. chapmani (in southeast Texas), and C. m. henryi (in west Texas).
Common nighthawks are common around deserts, prairies, forests, savannahs, and urban areas, where they feed on large insects during the night.
During summer evenings, watch and listen for their “booming” flight displays where they fly slightly above trees before diving down for the ground. Their wingtips will make deep booms, similar to racing cars passing by.
- Scientific Name: Nyctidromus albicollis
- Length: 8.7-11 in
- Wingspan: 21.2 in
- Weight: 1.8 oz
Common pauraques are nocturnal birds, just like other nightjars, and become active at dusk.
Their brown, gold, and gray plumage camouflages them well during the day, making it almost impossible to spot these birds as they sleep on open ground.
During the night (from dusk till dawn), males will make loud calls ranging from whistles to frog-like grunts, and catch flying insects. That’s when their white wing bars can be easily spotted too.
In Texas, these nocturnal predators can be found in southern parts of the state, around woodlands and river thickets.
There are 6 recognized subspecies and the one found in Texas is the N. a. merrilli.
- Scientific Name: Phalaenoptilus nuttallii
- Length: 7.1 in
- Wingspan: 12 in
- Weight: 1.3-2 oz
Common poorwills are nocturnal birds found in western Texas.
They inhabit dry open areas rich in grasses and shrubs where they nest on the ground and feed on nocturnal insects like grasshoppers, beetles, and moths. Common poorwills will either hunt on the ground or catch them in the air.
In the southern parts of their range, they will enter torpor for long periods, for weeks or even months.
These small and compact night birds have grayish plumage, short wings, and tails, got their name after their song that sounds like a whistled “poor-will“.
Source: National Park Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
- Scientific Name: Antrostomus carolinensis
- Length: 11-13 in
- Wingspan: 23-26 in
- Weight: 2.3-6.6 oz
Chuck-will’s-widows are large night birds with big heads.
They are breeding residents in the eastern third of Texas and along the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau.
Their plumage varies from grayish to rufous with intricate patterns, camouflaging them well in the trees.
Chuck-will’s-widows are nocturnal, calling and hunting at dusk, predawn, and at night – you might have spotted them in your headlights while driving as they love to sit on the roads and roadsides at night.
They were named after their distinctive whistled songs that sound like “chuck-wills-widow“.
Source: James G. Howes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Chuck-will’s-widows are migratory and resemble eastern whip-poor-wills and common nighthawks.
- Scientific Name: Antrostomus vociferus
- Length: 8.7-10.6 in
- Wingspan: 17.7-19.6 in
- Weight: 1.5-2.4 oz
Whip-poor-wills can be seen in the eastern half of Texas and the high mountains of the Trans-Pecos region.
These cryptic nocturnal birds are easier to hear than to see. Their song is a whistled “whip-poor-will” that is emitted in forests with open understories they inhabit.
Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern whip-poor-wills have mottled plumage with a mixture of brown, black, and gray that camouflages them well with their environment.
They hunt at night, feeding on flying insects they catch from the ground.
Eastern whip-poor-wills resemble chuck-will’s-widows that have slightly larger heads and longer wings and tails.
- Scientific Name: Scolopax minor
- Length: 10-12 in
- Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
- Weight: 5-8 oz
American woodcocks are small shorebirds found in eastern parts of Texas during winter.
They mainly inhabit brushy and young-forested habitats and are easy to spot by their large heads, short necks, and short tails. Their plumage is a mix of browns, grays, and blacks.
American woodcocks also have very long, straight, and prehensile beaks. During the night, they spend their time probing the soil in pursuit of earthworms and other invertebrates.
Thanks to the unique beak structure, woodcocks can open and close the tips of their upper bills while they are sunk into the ground.
American Woodcock also migrate at night and might hit windows, communications towers, and other structures.
Because of their nocturnal lifestyle, inconspicuous colors, and low-profile behaviors, American woodcocks are usually very hard to spot. Around dusk and dawn during springtime, you might manage to find males showing off with their stunning aerial displays.
They are also known as timberdoodles, bogsuckers, and hokumpokes and have unique and large eyes that allow them to see 360° horizontally and 180° vertically.
American woodcocks are popular game birds, with over half a million birds caught annually by hunters.
Texas is rich with nocturnal birds. Some can be seen year-round there, like several owl species, while others, like common nighthawks, visit the state only to breed.
Feel free to read out other popular bird articles: Nocturnal birds found in Michigan