Birds sleep in their nests, right? The answer to this question may surprise you. Nests are not used for sleeping in the bird world. Nests, for the birds that make them, are used for housing eggs and chicks. Once these chicks leave the nest, birds don’t typically return. When nesting season is over, nests will often be covered in dirt, droppings, and feathers from the fledglings. This can attract parasites and predators, and that’s not somewhere that birds want to be.
So if birds don’t sleep in their nests, then where do they sleep? The big answer is, away from predators. Depending on the type of bird, they may sleep in different places and in different ways.
Songbirds need to keep off the ground to avoid cats and other ground predators. However, they also must keep out of open spaces to avoid owls, which are nocturnal and search for food at night. These birds are often looking for dense foliage or brush to take cover in overnight. This foliage acts as camouflage keeping them safe and secure.
Perching birds, called Passerines, sleep while perched. Over time, passerines have developed a form of flexor tendons in their legs that involuntarily clasp shut when a bird is squatting on a perch. The tendons will stay in this position until the bird straightens its leg and it physically won’t be able to leave until it’s ready and willing. The grip is so tight that some birds have even been seen sleeping upside down. That certainly sounds like a deep sleep to us!
Birds also prioritize staying warm while roosting. Many bird species, most notoriously hummingbirds, enter a state or torpor while sleeping. This lowers their body temperature and conserves energy so they can survive the colder temperatures during the night. Many birds will also gather in large flocks to share body heat as they sleep. They may huddle together in cavities under roofs, bridges, ledges, or barns using the group to provide warmth.
Daytime may be the best time to see and feed the birds, but having an understanding of what birds need to survive in all aspects of their life can give everyone ideas on how we can help birds any way we can. So, make sure that along with putting out bird feeders for daytime nourishment, you’re supplying your birds with some shelter so they can have some nighttime relaxation.