If you’ve recently taken an interest in the birds in your own backyard, or you’re a new birder, then knowing when do birds eat, do birds feed at night, and the most common times of day most birds eat can help you plan out the perfect time for a sighting. Many species of birds can be seen throughout the day foraging, flying, or simply resting. Pinpointing a bird’s feeding times can be difficult if you’re not familiar with the many different species of birds, especially those that are common in your neck of the woods. We’ll go over which birds are common day eaters and which species primarily feed at night.

Do birds feed at night? Yes and no. Nocturnal birds will feed during the night, while diurnal birds will only feed at dusk and dawn. Diurnal birds are the common garden birds you’ll find at your feeders on and off throughout the day. How frequently these birds feed, as well as the times of day they eat, tends to vary based on the season and whether or not there are predators in the area. Nocturnal birds will have more freedom in terms of the exact time of night they hunt and forage, unlike the garden bird, which has to weigh the risks of starvation against the risk of being killed by a predator.

Read on to learn more about the feeding habits of the diurnal bird, how they choose their feeding times and what it can mean if there is no activity at your feeders during intense weather or when your cat likes to take his or her afternoon stroll around the yard.

Which Birds Eat at Night?

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron
Juvenile black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) showing adult plumage development

The majority of birds are diurnal. A diurnal bird is mainly active during the day and sleeps during the night. Nocturnal birds will hunt and feed at night. The nocturnal bird’s list can include birds such as night herons, nighthawks, and owls. These birds take the nightshift and do pretty much the same thing diurnal birds do, just during the nighttime, beginning at dusk. The nocturnal bird will eat, care for their young, groom themselves, and forage at night. They will also do any other activities well after the diurnal birds have gone to bed for the night.

Peak Feeding Hours for Diurnal Birds

Typically, most wild birds will feed during dusk and dawn. In the winter months, the peak feeding hours tend to change, especially in colder climates. The first peak feeding hour will occur shortly after the sun rises. Eating at this time of day is done in order to boost their energy and stock up on nutrients for the day.

The second most common time of day for feeding takes place toward the end of the day and is done for similar reasons. Feeding later in the day will allow the bird to stock up on important nutrients for energy, which can help the bird to get through the night, especially during the winter.

Certain, smaller species of wild birds will skip a feeding or two. It’s believed this is done due to the increased risk of predators in a specific environment. In this sense, it tells us that birds are logical and observant. This often occurs both in the wild and in urban environments. You may notice that the times of day your cat is active in the yard your normally booming bird activity at the feeders has dwindled down to almost non-existent. This change in feeding frequency can also be due to weather. Birds will not spend as much time feeding or out and about in intense heat or cold weather conditions. While they may miss a meal they’re actually focused on conserving their energy.

The third most common feeding time of the day will occur in the afternoon. Just like at dusk, some birds will avoid feeding at this time in order to avoid predators or intense weather conditions. However, if there is limited food in your area a bird may decide the predation risk is worth it.

Food Shortages

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As we just mentioned, a food shortage can also affect when a bird eats and how often. Birds that mainly rely on food provided by bird feeders will eat more frequently than the birds that rely solely on their foraging skills in the wild. Additionally, if a bird is relying on a feeder and knows for certain that food will be found, then they will be more likely to use up their energy reserves later in the day to stock up on food and build up their reserves for the night.

Studies have shown us in areas where the food supply isn’t quite as reliable, smaller species of birds will search for more food as soon as possible because their risk of starvation outweighs the risk of being killed by a predator.

Related Questions

How Can I Keep Track of Which Birds Visit My Bird Feeders?

Many birders start off by taking an interest in a bird’s activity in their own backyard. If you’d like to learn how to bird, the first step is buying a pair of birding binoculars, such as the Canon Image Stabilization All-Weather Binoculars. These binoculars will allow you to spot subtle details in a bird’s plumage, so you can easily identify the species. It will also help you to determine which types of birds visit your yard so you can fill the bird feeders accordingly. Next, if you want to learn more about a bird’s feeding habits or social behavior, use a notebook to take notes on what the bird did when it was in your yard, whether it ate, socialized with other birds, or spent his or her time preening. Keeping track of bird activity in your backyard can teach you a lot about your local birds and other wildlife and it can quickly spark an interest in becoming an avid birder.

Can I Use Binoculars During Dusk?

Yes and no. Low-quality optics, which are commonly found on lower priced binoculars, can negatively impact visibility during bright or low light conditions. If you have a pair of high-quality binoculars designed specifically for birding, then you should be able to clearly sight birds in a variety of lighting conditions. To learn more about birding binoculars and the different features they offer, click here to read our birding binoculars buyer’s guide. Here, you’ll also get a sneak peek at the top models of binoculars on the market, so you should have no problem finding a pair that will meet your birding needs.

Final Thoughts

To sum it up, yes, there are birds that feed at night, but these are nocturnal birds. Diurnal birds, or birds that are active during the day will primarily feed during dusk and dawn. Some will feed two to three times a day, while others will only feed once daily. For diurnal birds, how often and even when they eat will depend on weather conditions and predation risk. Nocturnal birds, namely larger predators still have to worry about other predators, but not at the same level that smaller species of garden birds do.