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Are Owls Nocturnal? (This Is Their Activity Pattern)

Most owls are nocturnal. They’ve developed this adaptation because of the behavior of prey, other predators, and other natural adaptations (such as night vision and incredible hearing).

Owls are complex creatures, from the way they behave to the way they sleep. Most people know owls as nighttime creatures, but are they all nocturnal?

Do they sleep during the day and fly around at night? Or do they sleep during the night and fly around during the day?

In this article, we’ll explore some of the interesting facts about owls’ sleeping patterns.

What Makes an Animal Nocturnal?

Nocturnal animal species are highly active during the hours of darkness. This is when they do most of their activities, including drinking and feeding during the night.

Nocturnal animals have a unique sleeping pattern. They sleep during the day instead of during the night. This is often because they live in habitats that are either too hot during the day, or because they can stay hidden to avoid predators during the evening.[1]

What Do Owls Eat

Are Owls Nocturnal?

Yes, most owls are nocturnal. They are active at night and spend the day sleeping. They are considerably more weary during the day. 

Most owls sleep during the day and are active during the night. Animals showing this activity pattern, as mentioned, is known as nocturnal.

Owls rely on stealth and ambushing when hunting, so it’s only practical for them to hunt at night since it’s easier to sneak up on their prey when they’re cloaked in darkness.

It’s important to note that not all owls are nocturnal. There are more than 200 species, and different species have specialized behavioral patterns.

Are All Owls Nocturnal?

Not all owls are nocturnal. A few select species are diurnal, meaning their activity pattern is the opposite of most owls: hunting during the day and sleeping at night. Some owls are also categorized as crepuscular, where they’ll do their main activities at dusk and dawn.

owl at night

Do Owls Come Out During The Day?

Yes, some owls come out during the day. Most owls are sleep during the day, but some species are diurnal.

It is true that most owl species are nocturnal, and are not seen during the day. This is because they are usually hiding in a secluded spot to sleep during the daytime[2]. This is not true for all owls.

There are only two truly diurnal owls: the northern hawk-owl and the northern pygmy owl. These owls are the only species that are solely active during the day and sleep through most of the night.

When Are Owls Most Active?

Owls are most active during the night. They do most of their activities during this time of day including hunting, mating, and feeding.

Different species of owls are most active at different parts of the day. Most owls take care of hunting, mating, and feeding at night. This is when you’ll be most likely to spot an owl flying around or perching in a tree.

Barn Owls are most active at dusk when they fly low over open fields in search of prey. 

owl eating prey at night

When Are Owls Least Active?

Owls are widely known for their unique nighttime habits. Their large eyes and acute, directional hearing enable them to hunt during the night, though they will sometimes take prey during the day as well. With this said, owls are not actively hunting or moving 24 hours a day.

There are a few factors that determine an owl’s activity pattern. 

  • The first is the day length or time of year. During winter, when there are fewer hours of daylight, owls need to conserve energy and rest more often than during summer months when it is light for longer periods.
  • Local conditions also play a role in determining how many hours of activity an owl will have each night. For instance, owls that live near human towns and cities often need to conserve their energy because of the presence of humans and street lamps.

Activity Pattern Depending On Species

Owls’ activity patterns can vary depending on the species. Some species are nocturnal, others crepuscular, and just two species of owls are diurnal.

Typically, most owls are active at night. During the day they may retreat to a hollow tree or abandoned burrow where they can rest without being disturbed. 

So what time of day will you find them out and about? Let’s take a look at a few owl species and their activity pattern.

Owl Species/ BreedActivity Pattern
Great Horned OwlNocturnal
Barn OwlNocturnal
Northern Spotted OwlNocturnal
Barred OwlNocturnal
Northern Hawk OwlDiurnal
Pygmy OwlsDiurnal
Snowy OwlsCrepuscular
Short-eared OwlsCrepuscular
Burrowing OwlsCrepuscular
Eurasian Eagle OwlCrepuscular
Great Gray OwlCrepuscular

What Do Owls Do At Night?

Owls are carnivores and hunt for their food at night. As birds of prey, they typically hunt smaller animals, such as rodents, small birds, or insects. They do this at night.

Owls use their exceptional vision and hearing to swoop down on their prey and kill it with their hooked beak. These enhanced senses allow them to effectively hunt at night, compared to other animals.

Related: What Do Owls Eat?

Besides hunting, they also mate and care for their young during the night. When the night turns to day, they’ll sleep and rest, while still keeping an eye out for predators.

owl living in tress at night

When Do Owls Sleep?

As night creatures, owls sleep during the day. They sleep for extended periods, but also take short naps. They typically sleep with one eye open to keep track of predators.

As nocturnal animals, owls sleep in the daytime after they are done hunting their prey at night[4]. To avoid predators such as other birds and bigger animals, many owls choose to roost alone or with other owls that are part of their own species.

However, this is not always the case. Some owls are active during the day if there are more daylight hours and are sleeping during the night. These owls are diurnal, which means they sleep at night.


Most owls are nocturnal. They sleep during the day, and they hunt, mate, and feed during the night. They’ve adapted to this lifestyle over many years. It gives them an advantage in the wild, as prey animals typically can’t see and hear as well as owls during the night.

About Kaitlin Mullins

Birds are plenty, and they can be hard to keep track of. Thankfully, Katilin Mullins has taken charge of these. With plenty of free time spent bird watching, she’s a true expert on these intriguing animals.

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