Can Birds See at Night? Thoughts, Eye Anatomy, Clarification

Birds are incredibly good at the sight and never miss their prey. They have different levels of vision which enable seeing in light and night.

Yes, most birds can see at night flawlessly. Even some nocturnal birds like bats, owls, and frogmouths can see better than others in the dark. Thus, they cannot see in total darkness like the cats.

Consequently, we can see their movement in the daytime mostly. But it isn’t very clear about their night in the air. Can birds see at night? Or can they hunt at night?

We are here to explain birds’ vision at night in detail. You can learn about their eye anatomy, the features they own, activities, and some other interesting facts.

Eye Anatomy of Birds

The eye is the most important one among the five senses of birds. These nightcrawlers heavily depend on their vision.

They can find the right food and mate with powerful sight, flee from predators, and reach their destination. Human and bird eyes have similar structures like lenses, cornea, and retina.

Even some birds have bigger eyes than others (for example ostriches). Again, the songbirds have more giant eyes than brain size.

Most birds’ eyes are like reptiles. Instead of being spherical like ours, they own flatter-shaped eyes to better focus and visualize the target.

Also, the increased retina size helps to get bigger and more explicit images. Light can easily enter birds’ eyes for their larger pupils. It helps to see under reduced light.

Additionally, the fovea cells inside the retinas contain around 400K photoreceptor cones per square millimeter.

It is only about 200K in humans. That’s why birds can see with better details.

bird eye anatomy and function

The Great Visual Optics

Birds are unique creatures. Likewise, they possess several unique visual optics or features. These features are different and more supermassive than others.

The Vision of UV Rays

Birds can process a better wavelength spectrum (300-400nm) than we do. Some fishes, amphibians, and reptiles can process like this.

Hence, the power of UV vision gives the birds enormous benefits, among other creatures.

It enables them to focus on any prey, mammals, fruits, eggs, etc., quicker even in their flight. Also, they can differentiate a monomorphic bird’s genital character using UV vision.

Perception of Color

The sensory color perception of birds is known as magnetoreception. It helps them like a GPS we use to identify the location, direction, and altitudes.

Usually, they use this power on dark nights. Some studies show that the fowls can see plane-polarized light. It is an example of a built-in magnetic compass.

Also, it can shift if there is slight light absorption. They can detect color to differentiate between locations and altitudes using photoreceptors.

It probably impacts the visuals of the colors of things in front of them. Tetrachromat birds can see things in four colors: UV and RGB (red, green, and blue).

We humans can only see RGB colors. It explains that birds possess a great color perception.

Detection of Motion

Motion detection is an important factor for birds’ vision.

When the birds are in flight at a good speed, the unit frequency of seeing greatly increases. In the case of humans, we can only see 60Hz consistent motions, whereas birds can see around 100Hz.

Again, the fovea of prey birds is double that of most predator birds. It is good for tracing any motion. Surprisingly, birds like pigeons can only detect movement at 15°/h.

Diurnal and Nocturnal Birds

Birds have two types of vision at night: diurnal and nocturnal.

Birds remain more active under daylight in diurnals, while active at night are known as nocturnal. Examples:

  1. Diurnal: golden eagles, kites, parrots, hummingbirds, vultures, woodpeckers.
  2. Nocturnal: owls, boobooks, nightjars, nighthawks, frogmouths.

There are two receptors inside birds’ eyes: rods and cones. Rods are extremely sensitive to dimmer light.

Nocturnals have more rods than cones. Thus, the excess rods help them better vision in the dark. Also, they allow getting more light to give a perfect view even at night.

As a result, nocturnal birds can hunt, feed, and protect their family well at night.

Diurnal birds have fewer rods than cones. It is why they cannot remain active at night like nocturnal. Their night vision is limited, yet they can see better than humans in the dark.

For instance, we can see 12x less than the geese at night. Still, geese are diurnal birds, right?

Many birds sleep at night, taking shelter in trees, cavities, and niches. On the winter days, they huddle closer to keep their body warm.

Again, some birds like ducks can float in water while sleeping. Birds like ostrich can keep their eyes open while standing on their legs while sleeping.

Monocular vs. Binocular Vision

The eye location can tell if the bird has monocular or binocular vision. If the bird has eyes in front of its head, it will be a bird with binocular vision.

Owls and Eagles are examples of birds with this feature like we have. It can help these birds see more depth and distance than binocular birds as they can see the same object concurrently.

Monocular birds can focus on two objects simultaneously. It means they can see everything surrounding them at the same time.

Pigeons and parrots have a wider field of vision. So, this possession of monocular vision can easily help them identify their predators.

which birds can see at night

Which Bird Can See at Night

Some birds can see better in the dark than others. Here’s a look at six of the most nocturnal birds and their eyesight:

  1. The owl is a bird that can see in the dark up to twice as far as a human.
  2. The nightjar can see in the dark up to 6 times better than a human.
  3. The black-capped chickadee can see in the dark up to 10 times better than a human.
  4. The nighthawk can see in the dark up to 50 times better than a human.
  5. The hummingbird is considered one of nature’s most adapted creatures to seeing in the dark. They can see at night as well as during the day and he has a color vision (like humans).
  6. The bat can see in the dark more than any other creature. A group of bats called a swarm can see in the dark as far as 500 meters (1,640 feet) away!
BirdNight vision


The question of whether birds can see at night takes us on a fascinating journey through their unique vision and eye anatomy. While some species exhibit remarkable nocturnal abilities, the overall understanding of avian night vision remains an intriguing aspect of bird behavior.

As we continue to explore the mysteries of the feathered world, the quest for clarity on this topic adds a layer of appreciation for the remarkable capabilities of our avian friends.

Keep observing, keep wondering, and let the fascination with bird vision brighten your appreciation for the beauty of nature.


Which bird has the best night vision?

Owls are generally considered to have the best night vision of any bird. This is due to their large eyes, many rods in the retina, and a reflective layer behind the retina. Owls also have very good hearing, which helps them to hunt in low light conditions.

Can parrots see at night?

Parrots are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They do not have the same adaptations for night vision as owls, so they cannot see in total darkness. However, they can see in very low light conditions.

Can birds fly in the dark?

Some birds can fly in the dark, but not all. Birds that are active at night, such as owls, have specialized adaptations that allow them to fly in low-light conditions. These adaptations include large eyes, many rods in the retina, and a reflective layer behind the retina.

Other birds, such as sparrows and robins, are active during the day and do not have these adaptations. They cannot fly in total darkness, but they can fly in very low light conditions, such as moonlight.

Can birds see in total darkness?

No, no bird can see in total darkness. However, some birds have adaptations that allow them to see in very low light conditions. These adaptations include large eyes, many rods in the retina, and a reflective layer behind the retina.

Eye Anatomy Source:

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