Famous for a rich avifauna, there are over 420 bird species in Tennessee according to the Tennessee Bird Records Committee (TBRC)!
Examples of nocturnal birds in Tennessee 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 Tennessee
1. American Woodcock
- Scientific Name: Scolopax minor
American woodcocks are elusive birds found year-round across Tennessee, active at dawn and dusk for around 45 minutes after sunset and before sunrise. They are common in fields near young forests, especially those with scattered cover, and powerline cuts are great places to find them.
These birds are tough to spot due to their nocturnal habits, camouflaged colors, and low-key behaviors.
You can identify them by their unique “peent” call from the ground or the twittering sound in the air.
2. Wilson’s Snipe
- Scientific Name: Gallinago delicata
Similar to American woodcocks, Wilson’s snipes are fond of wet grassy fields, sedge marshes, and bogs. These winter residents in Tennessee are most commonly heard during dawn and dusk.
To find them, listen for their “tuk-tuk” call from the ground or low perches.
What’s fascinating is their winnowing display flight. Males fly high in circles and then take shallow dives to create a distinctive sound. You can witness this behavior during both day and nighttime.
3. Eastern Screech-Owl
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
Eastern screech owls are the most strictly nocturnal owls in North America.
They are permanent residents in TN and are commonly found in woodlands near water and at lower elevations, as well as urban areas. They are also the most numerous owls in the state.
They get chatty near sunset and go quieter as the night goes on. You’ll hear more calls during full moons and before storms. Listen for the “whinny” and trilling tremolo calls. In the summer (June to August), keep an ear out for juvenile hissing sounds.
Read More: What birds sing at night in NC?
4. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
Great horned owls are among Tennessee’s largest birds, measuring nearly 2 feet in length and weighing up to 3.5 pounds. They’re year-round residents in the state.
These owls prefer open areas near mature forests, becoming most vocal an hour after dark and an hour before dawn. They are easiest to detect in December and January when they are establishing territories.
Their calls are deep and loud, sounding like “ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo,” with the female’s call being higher-pitched, peaking after midnight.
In winter or spring, they may sing in duets. Territorial hooting decreases in February or March when they start laying eggs. In summer, the juvenile begging call can be confused with barn owls.
5. Barn Owl
- Scientific Name: Tyto alba
Barn owls are the least common among the regularly occurring owls in TN. They are permanent residents found throughout the state, with slightly rarer sightings in West Tennessee.
Medium-sized with a “ghostly” appearance, they favor open habitats like grasslands, marshes, and agricultural areas.
Instead of hooting, barn owls emit bone-chilling screams during the night. They’re nocturnal hunters, preying on rodents, and take refuge in nest boxes, caves, tree hollows, and old buildings.
Common across the USA, you can spot and hear barn owls at night in Alabama as well.
6. Barred Owl
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
Barred owls are among the rare owls in Tennessee with dark eyes. These year-round residents of the state prefer dense deciduous or mixed forests near water, occurring also in suburban neighborhoods where sections of forest are still present.
They’re active throughout the night and are recognized by their distinctive “who-cooks-for-you” song and “hoo-ahhh” call. They often duet, and their juveniles make a high-pitched raspy hissing noise.
Can be also identified by their mottled brown and white plumage, yellow beaks, and lack of ear tufts.
7. Long-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio otus
Long-eared owls are elusive, blending into open forests, marshy areas, and dense coniferous woods of Tennessee in winter.
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.
Read More: List of birds that sing at night in Michigan
8. Short-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
Short-eared owls are incredibly widespread, found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. In winter, you can spot these nocturnal birds in open grasslands throughout the state, including weedy fields, small airport grass strips, coastal marshes, and agricultural fields with stubble.
They are regular migrants and winter residents primarily in West and Middle Tennessee and can be heard at night from November to March.
Although usually quiet, during the breeding season, they produce a series of “voo-hoo-hoo” calls. These owls are mainly nocturnal hunters but can also be crepuscular (active near dawn and dusk) and even diurnal, though less frequently.
9. Pied-billed Grebe
- Scientific Name: Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed grebes are small, stocky water birds with brown plumage that provides excellent camouflage. They are fairly common as migrants and winter residents in large bodies of water across the state, but they become rare during the summer, breeding in scattered locations.
These grebes prefer marshes and ponds with emergent vegetation, staying active throughout the night. Look out for their loud, whooping, cuckoo-like song, and sometimes, pairs sing together in a duet.
Read More: Example of Nocturnal Birds in SC
10. Common Nighthawk
- Scientific Name: Chordeiles minor
Common nighthawks are medium-sized birds of Tennessee, active during dawn and dusk with a visible moon. They make a distinct “peent” sound and perform courtship displays with rapid dives, creating a booming sound.
Common Nighthawk Call | Source: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
These summer residents are found in prairies, forests, savannahs, and urban areas. During the day, they’re well-camouflaged with gray, black, and brown plumage with white wing patches.
- 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, helping them blend into trees.
They’re often found in pine barrens and swamp edges, known for their “chuck-will’s-widow” songs. Males are most vocal in April-May, quieter in June, and back to singing in July and August. Singing can continue all night during a full or near-full moon.
Chuck-will’s-widow Call | Source: James G. Howes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
You might have seen them while driving at night as they like sitting on roads and roadsides, watching for flying insects. They are fairly common summer residents in Middle and West Tennessee, as well as in areas below 1,500 feet in East Tennessee, typically arriving in late April and leaving in late August.
Read More: List of nocturnal birds of Minnesota
12. Eastern Whip-poor-will
- Scientific Name: Antrostomus vociferus
Eastern whip-poor-wills can be heard after dusk and before dawn during the late spring and early summer nights in Tennessee.
These cryptic nocturnal birds are more often heard than seen, staying still during the day. They’re found in pine barrens and forest openings, singing their “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, catching flying insects from the ground. While they resemble common nighthawks, their behavior and characteristic call set them apart.
Read More: Birds that sing at night in Oklahoma
13. Common Gallinule
- Scientific Name: Gallinula galeata
Common gallinules, medium-sized marsh birds, have small heads, thin necks, small bills, long legs, toes, and dark plumage with white undertails and red frontal plates on their heads.
These summer residents typically arrive in late April and leave the state by late September, with documented nestings in East, Middle, and West Tennessee.
They are common in freshwater wetlands with open water and emergent vegetation. Listen for the “marsh chicken sound” and single “clucks” – the most frequently heard sounds. They’re mostly active at dawn and dusk.
Read More: List of night birds heard in Ohio
14. American Coot
- Scientific Name: Fulica americana
American hoots are frequently heard in Tennessee during migration and the winter months, with the highest numbers occurring from October through April.
Despite resembling ducks, American coots are only distantly related. You can spot and hear them in freshwater wetlands with open water and emergent vegetation.
Listen for their sharp “poot” call and screeching “kree” sound, and notice their noisy swimming, often followed by splashing water sounds. They’re most active around dawn and dusk.
15. Least Bittern
- Scientific Name: Ixobrychus exilis
Least bitterns are the smallest of herons and one of the most elusive species to spot in Tennessee. They are summer residents in the state, typically arriving in late April and departing by late September.
These birds are often found near marshes with open water and vegetation, like cattails, phragmites, or lily pads.
Males have soft “coo-coo-coo” and “reek-reek-reek” calls which can be sometimes confused for black-billed cuckoos’. They’re more active at dawn and dusk but less vocal in windy or rainy conditions.
Read More: List of night birds found in Indiana
16. Black-crowned Night Heron
- Scientific Name: Nycticorax nycticorax
Black-crowned night herons are common nesting species of East and Middle Tennessee, and rare in the West. They can be seen around wooded swamps, ponds, lakes, and mangroves.
Unlike most herons, they are most active at night or at dusk. They often bait fish by tossing food in the water to lure prey before striking with their long beaks.
These nocturnal and noisy herons migrate in large night flocks. Their scientific name “Nycticorax” comes from the ancient Greek term meaning “night raven,” referring to their nocturnal feeding habits and crow-like calls.
Read More: Examples of nocturnal birds from Oregon
17. Yellow-crowned Night Heron
- Scientific Name: Nyctanassa violacea
Yellow-crowned night-herons can be heard at dusk, dawn, and during the night. They’re named after the pale yellow crowns on their heads.
These large blue birds are vocal, making various sounds. Their common alarm call is a sharp “quawk.” During courtship, males and females may also use “yup-yup” and “huh” calls.
They are strictly nocturnal and feed at night, primarily on crabs and crayfish.
Read More: Nocturnal birds of Georgia
18. Northern Mockingbird
- Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
Northern mockingbirds are the most commonly heard at night in Tennessee, with the nighttime singers often being young, unattached males or older males without mates. In well-lit areas, even mated males may sing at night.
To reduce their constant (and obnoxious) singing, you can use bird nets on trees or set up cardboard cutouts of predators like hawks or owls.
These birds are year-round residents in the state, and their translated Latin name, “many-tongued mimic,” is well-deserved. They can imitate over 35 species and learn more than 200 songs in their lifetime!
Their mimicry extends to sounds like rusty hinges, car alarms, cackling hens, and dog barks, often indistinguishable from the real thing.
Northern Mockingbird Call | Source: Sandtouch Limited Company, a Texas limited liability company, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Read More: What birds sing during the night in Texas?
19. Yellow-breasted Chat
- Scientific Name: Icteria virens
Found and heard across all of Tennessee, yellow-breasted chats are one of the few songbirds that will frequently sing at night. They migrate to Mexico and Central America in winter but can be heard during the breeding season in the state.
They’re often heard more than seen and frequent dense, brushy areas and hedgerows. Their songs feature a unique mix of cackles, clucks, whistles, hoots, and harsh “chak” calls.
Yellow-breasted chats can mimic other birds, sometimes causing confusion. During the breeding season, they become more conspicuous, singing from exposed spots and flying openly while gurgling their songs.
Read More: What birds sing at night in PA?
20. American Robin
- Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
American robins, common songbirds in Tennessee year-round, are often found in forests, lawns, and suburbs across the state.
As winter turns to spring and daylight grows, they earn the nickname “wake robins” for being among the first birds heard at dawn. Their song is a “cheery” carol, a series of clear whistles, along with a sharp “yeep” alarm call and a mumbled “tuk” for communication.
American Robin Song | Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
At sunset, their song shifts, adding soft, almost whispered notes, creating an elegant and intricate evening melody.
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What Birds Sing At Night In Tennessee?
The most common birds that sing at night in Tennessee 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 yellow-breasted chats singing in the darkness as they call out to the females, American robins and their cheery carol, or even barn owls and their bone-chilling screams.
Read More: California’s most common nocturnal birds
Tennessee boasts a diverse collection of nocturnal birds, with some, such as various owl species and northern mockingbirds, being year-round residents, while others, like yellow-breasted chats, least bitterns, and common nighthawks, making seasonal visits to the state for breeding.
If you’ve encountered or heard any of these birds, we trust this guide has been useful in identifying them.