What time do birds sleep?

Ever wondered where birds go at night? What time do they sleep? In this article, we’re going to touch on several interesting points regarding bird sleep.

Birds have their sleep schedule dependent on the sun. The diurnal birds go to bed at sundown and wake up at sunrise, regardless of the time of the year. That means that will go to be earlier in winters and later during summers.

Should birds have a bedtime?

Absolutely. In nature, birds go to bed with the sun. Because humans decided to have birds as pets, they can get confused by artificial light and noise not getting their precious beauty sleep.

Sleep deprivation in parrots affects their health tremendously and you may pay the price in nasty bites!

How much sleep do birds need?

How much sleep a bird needs depends on a series of factors:

  • How much exercise the bird did during the day
  • How much light it has access to – birds get more sleepy when it’s dark
  • Species – some species need more sleep than others

In a general sense, birds need 10-12 hours of sleep, going to bed around 7 pm and waking up at 5 am, give or take a few hours. They need to have interrupted sleep to get a good night of sleep.

Depending on their days, they might even get a few power naps if they don’t have anything going on.

Flock of finches sleeping together for warmth
Flock of finches sleeping together for warmth

How much sleep does my parrot need?

Birds such as parrots usually need 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a day depending on their activity. They may take short naps during the day but still need their sleepy time.

Species from one of the more temperate regions or non-tropical areas like the Kea, Australian parakeets and Ringnecks who have adapted to a temperate zone, may need 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness in the winter months.

Below are the most common causes of sleep deprivation on pet birds:

  • Cage by the window, where light and noise can come in
  • Late family meals and chatter
  • Cage too close to the bathroom or kitchen, where people come and go
  • Startled by other pets or children

Sleep deprivation can result in a bird’s death if it persists for several days. Make sure that you aren’t making their sleep environment so disturbing that the bird ends up dead.

Do birds have a sleep schedule?

Birds have a rigid sleep schedule. Most birds are diurnal and will go to bed at sunset and wake up at sunrise. Therefore, their sleep schedule is dependent on the time of the year.

During Summer, they enjoy longer days, so they can focus on finding a mate and raising their chicks. This is the reason why parrots will tend to stay awake for longer times during Spring and Summer and get hormonal.

A few species live further away from equatorial regions and even fewer in temperate areas. Parrots living further away from the equator have slightly different habits, sleeping longer in winter months and shorter in summer months.

Sleeping with one eye open

Birds have so much to worry about while sleeping that they evolved in such a way they are almost always ‘half awake’. They sleep in small batches and hang out in flocks with other birds. If one bird hears something, it can alert the others in his ‘awake’ turn.

Besides that, some birds are literally able to sleep with one eye open and others while flying! Thanks to slow-wave sleep (USWS), birds can rest one part of their brain while the other part keeps alert. This ability is used mostly by migrating birds that need to fly long distances.

Frigatebirds and albatrosses are good examples of this slow-wave ability. These birds typically circle upward on air currents in the direction of their open eye, which is the one connected to the awake hemisphere of their brain. They do this so they don’t risk running into other birds.

So to get a safe night’s sleep, birds can close one eye and switch off one brain, and leave the other eye with the corresponding brain fully awake and alert. In fact, they can turn this ability on and off depending upon the circumstances. So in a large flock of geese roosting on a lake, for instance, the geese in the centre of the flock might have both brains asleep while the more vulnerable birds on the perimeter might have one eye open with its corresponding brain alert to look for predators.

If you have a pet bird, you may not experience this slow-wave phenomenon. When birds have enough trust in their surroundings, they will close both eyes and rest. If you have another pet they don’t trust enough, they’ll likely keep one eye open.

When do birds wake up?

Birds will wake up at sunrise. Some of them will wake up a bit earlier to get the advantage while hunting or foraging for food.

Others might use the early hours to mark their territory before anyone else does and use this as an advantage while looking for mates. That is the reason why some male birds sing so loudly in early mornings, as discussed in our article Why do birds sing?

Daytime birds may also wake up if they are migrating, mating, cold, suspect predation or are disturbed by noise or light.

In the other hand, noctunal birds such as barn owls sleep through the day and wake up around midnight to hunt.

Where do birds sleep?

You probably guessed right, on trees. Most birds pick well-hidden locations that are not in the open and far from the ground.

Smaller birds choose to stay in the high tree trunks to give them shelter, warmth, and vibrational alerts. Some other birds choose areas with dense foliage, others chose to hide on crevices on trees or rocks.

Waterfowl such as ducks and geese can’t sleep in trees because of their webbed feet. They’re too slow and clumsy at taking off to safely sleep on the ground, so they might sleep on a small island, or just on the water. 

Other water birds such as flamingos sleep standing in the water. The reason why is because the water serves as an alarm. When an enemy comes, it will splash the water and the flamingo will be able to sense it and reach in time.

Do birds sleep on nests?

Birds only sleep on nests when they have little chicks to take care of. Once the chicks grow and leave the nest, the parents may or not reuse it, depending on how damaged and dirty it is.

How do birds sleep?

To optimize energy and keep themselves warm and cozy, some birds sleep with all exposed parts of their bodies covered. They tuck their beaks and feet under their wings turning into an ‘orb’.

Other birds sleep with heads back and rest them on their backs while nuzzling their breaks into their feathers. Other birds such as bat parrots even sleep hanging upside down!

While their beaks are ‘tucked in’ inside their wings, their warm breathing coming through the nostrils will also help to warm them up.

However, sleeping with the head all tucked has its cons. Research showed that birds sleeping with their head untucked reacted significantly faster than those sleeping with their head tucked did, indicating that birds sleep more deeply when their head is tucked.

Cozy communal sleep

Birds usually roost in groups, so one bird can alert another in case of an intruder’s attack. Besides, they also snuggle up when it is cold to generate extra heat.

Why don’t birds fall when they sleep?

If you try to fall asleep standing, you will probably end up in the floor at some point!

However, with birds this is different because of one differential: they don’t relax while sleeping and they have clamp-like toes and tight leg ligaments that ‘lock’ their feet into a safe position for dozing off.

The leg of passerine birds (birds that perch) contains an additional special adaptation for perching. A tendon in the rear of the leg running from the underside of the toes to the muscle behind the tibiotarsus will automatically be pulled and tighten when the leg bends, causing the foot to curl and become stiff when the bird lands on a branch. This enables passerines to sleep while perching without falling off.

In fact, passarine birds have feet that clench by default, locking on contact with a twig as a reflex. This reflex helps them to stay in place. They have feet with a combination of muscles and tendons that keep contracted in a latched position in the presence of something to perch on — and this action takes no muscular work at all.

Passerine feet locking anatomy
Passerine feet locking – by Thomas H. Quinn and Julian J. Baumel –1990 paper in Zoomorphology 

The feet have three toes in the front and one in the back, with the rear toe curving forward for a nice grip. Each foot touches the perch at four separate points.  Similarly, when birds rise up, the toes loosen their grip.

Most birds in the wild are passarines, they respond for 60% of all birds. Thus the reason why deforestation affects them so much. Without a safe place to perch and sleep, birds are at danger.

Hummingbird’s sleeping torpor

Torpor is a sleep state similar to hibernation, a strategy that helps the birds survive. It is employed by birds like hummingbirds and doves to get through the colder months.

When hummingbirds sleep and are in the Torpor state, they have been known to hang upside-down. The bird’s pulse rate, respiration, and body temperature will all slow down.

Hummingbird in torpor
Hummingbird in torpor – Video by Chip Curley

If you find a hummingbird that is hanging upside-down and they appear to be dead, it is actually more likely that they are just asleep. They will probably not even respond if you touched them. If at all possible, leave them alone and they will wake up when they get warmer.

If you think the hummingbird is in need of medical or emergency care, check out the First-Aid section of this website before doing anything. It takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour for a hummingbird to fully recover from torpor.

Once they are up and about, the first order of business is food. The hummingbirds will eat 25% of their daily intake as soon as they recover from torpor.

How can I help birds to sleep?

Humans have interfered with wild life in many ways. To help birds have a good night of sleep, follow the tips below:

  • Reduce unnecessary artificial lighting at night pointing to trees and bushes
  • Close your curtains to avoid shining your living room light to the yard outside
  • Don’t play loud noises outside
  • Keep your pet cat or dog inside during late hours, so birds don’t have to worry about being hunted while they sleep
  • Offer them high-calorie food such as nuts, seeds, and suet. This way they can resist cold temperatures, helping them keep warm during the nights.

Do Birds Dream?

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Zebra finches flex their singing muscles while snoozing, as if they’re lip-syncing in their sleep. This may have a lot to do with crystallizing and reshaping material learned from their tutors—a phenomenon comparable to snoozing humans packaging memories and information into long-term storage.

Scientists think that studying how the birds use sleep to learn their songs can help us understand the mysterious process of human language acquisition.

Conclusion

Birds go to bed really early and have a lot of things to worry about while they’re asleep. Their ability to keep their senses alert makes a great asset to survive during storms and predactory attacks.