Drowsy birds at even gliding,
In among the branches hiding...
Dear, good night!
Lullaby the river sighs;
In the garden flowers sleeping...
Shut your eyes!
To its rest where moonlight gleams,
And the angels' whisper hushes...
On the earth a silver light;
All is harmony and slumber...
Dear, good night!
Silence through the forest creeping,
Glides the swan among the rushes
O'er the sky stars without number,
** Mihai Eminescu
Did you ever wonder what the birds did at “bedtime?” I have. I always wanted to believe that all of these tiny fragile creatures would find some solace at the end of their day in which to recharge; someplace safe. How could they both get the rest all living things need, yet still be protected from harm in the deep darkness of night?
Yesterday I was birding after work in Jacobus Park. I don’t go there often, however it’s near my home and it was time. It was getting near dusk and I had a nice time watching various species over the last hour when a tiny bird caught my eye. It was flitting about in a large Sugar maple about 15 feet over my head. I recognized the bird as a kinglet as it zigged and zagged through the fall-colored leaves catching insects. Suddenly it slipped in under one particularly large remaining leaf; landing on a series of twigs, and stopped. I almost lost it in the canopy as the colors matched so well. It quit moving and seemed to “snuggle” up under the overhanging leaf as if to say, “This is a great place for a nap.” I continued watching and snapping photos of it for 10 more minutes, however when I decided to move on and not disturb it any longer; it remained as I walked away.
Perhaps THIS is where the birdies go to rest for the night…someplace similar?
I guess logic would tell one that not all birds “slept” in the exact manner that my little kinglet friend was doing. I decided to see what other information I could find about sleeping (drowsy) birds. A general answer is that birds sleep anywhere they safely can stay warm. Some ducks sleep in icy water. Bobwhite sleep on the ground. Crows and turkeys roost in trees. Screech-owls and many other cavity-nesters sleep in their favorite cavities and nestboxes. Tangles of briars, grape vines and brambles protect birds from all but the hardest driving rains. Even greater protection is found in evergreen refuges such as conifers and ivy-covered walls. This is a good ecological reason for every bird-friendly backyard to include some evergreens.
On cold nights, many bird species, most notably hummingbirds, can enter a state of torpor when they sleep. This lowers their body temperature and conserves energy for them to survive the lower temperatures at night. Birds tuck their bills into their shoulder or backs while sleeping. This puts their nostrils into their plumage where the air is heated by their bodies, giving them warmer air to breathe while they sleep.
Not all birds sleep during the night. Most notable among them are the nightjars. Whip-poor-wills are the most familiar night-singers so they need to sleep during the daytime. Woodcocks will begin their “peenting” as most (diurnal) birds are finding their shelter for the evening. Although not nocturnal in the least; Northern mockingbirds and Sedge wrens have also been known to sing throughout an entire night. Nights with bright moonlight or in areas where there is a lot of artificial light are often filled with birdsong. The American robin has been known to sing at a minimum of 10 foot-candles.
While daytime may be the best time to see most birds, understanding where birds go at night can help birders get a better appreciate of how birds survive, and can give everyone ideas for how to help even the smallest birds survive every night; like the tiny little kinglet in the Jacobus Park maple.
** Mihai Eminescu (his proper name was M. Eminovici - pron.: Eminovitch) is regarded as the national poet of Romania. Born in Botosani (pron.: Botoshan), he died at the age of 38 years in Bukarest, suffering from paralysis the last five years of his life. From 1869 to 1874 he studied philosophy in Vienna and Berlin, later on working as librarian, superintendent of elementary schools and newspaper editor. In his short life he could not realize so many of his literary drafts (poetries, stories, fairytales etc.). Only a small part of his work was published during his lifetime ("Poezii" 1883).