Where Do Birds Go to Sleep?

October 22, 2023

In general, birds prefer to sleep in sheltered spots. They don’t want to lie on the ground where a cat can reach them or perch in a vulnerable position where an owl might strike. Instead they hide, beautifully camouflaged, behind dense brush or foliage. This is especially important during cold winter nights. Birds can use a process called shallow torpor when they sleep, which lowers their body temperature and slows their metabolism and conserves energy that would otherwise be used to keep warm.

Water birds, like herons, flamingos, and ducks, often stay in their water habitat at night. They can feel vibrations in the water that are created by predators swimming towards them, which gives them an extra layer of safety at night.

Other birds, especially those that migrate, may sleep in caves or chimneys or even nesting boxes. In the case of ruffed grouse and quail, their insulated, well-camouflaged, snoozing spots give them protection from both predators and cold weather.

But the most common sleeping spot for songbirds is a tree branch. Songbirds from the order passeriformes—sparrows, jays, warblers, and cardinals -- find a comfortable branch, get into a reclining pose and then tuck their heads under their wings. Using special flexor tendons, their legs will tighten automatically to the branch and hold them in place without any muscle effort. This allows them to fall asleep peacefully and stay that way through the night. It also protects them from predators, as most birds are light sleepers and can rouse themselves at the slightest noise or movement.

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