Nocturnal Insights On Wild Bird Watching At Night And Evenings – Not Just Star Gazing in Africa!

I have always found an indescribable charm in the African night. As the sun dips below the horizon, a different atmosphere of nature stirs to life. This twilight bustle is not just about night prowlers or the rustling of trees; it’s also about an enchanting variety of birds that awaken with the stars. In this adventure of sights and sounds, I invite you to the world of nocturnal birdwatching on this majestic continent.

Africa is home to a host of mesmerizing bird species that rule the roost when darkness falls and with the right guidance and some preparation, you’re on your way to discovering these creatures of the night.

Nocturnal Wonders: Discovering Some Birds That Own the African Night

When the sun dips below the horizon, Africa’s nocturnal birds emerge, transforming the night into a stage for their exclusive performances.

Among these, certain owl species, night herons, and other birds stand out for their distinct calls and behaviors, offering a captivating show for those patient enough to observe at dusk or dawn and at night!

But, I would personally advise you to look for a guide who can help you identify them and not go alone in the African bush!

1. The African Wood Owl

The African Wood Owl is another nocturnal treat you might see on your evening safari and resides throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

These owls hide in dense foliage during the day, but come alive at night. With their superb eyesight and hearing, they silently hunt for prey like rodents and insects from low perches. Listen for their hoots and clicks as they communicate in the darkness.

Did you know that seeing an owl in certain African regions can mean different things?

Bad Omen: In some parts of Africa, owls are seen as harbingers of bad luck or even death. Their nighttime calls and secretive nature can be unsettling, leading some to believe they carry negative messages from the spirit world.

Messengers or Protectors: On the other hand; other cultures view owls more positively. They might be seen as messengers from the spirit world, protectors of the dead, or symbols of wisdom and knowledge. In some areas, owls are even considered guardians against witchcraft or illness.

2. The Pel’s Fishing Owl

Cruising the night skies of sub-Saharan Africa (excluding the arid southwest), the Pel’s Fishing Owl is a captivating sight for nighttime safari enthusiasts, with its ginger plumage. Their preferred habitat lies near freshwater lakes, rivers, and swamps fringed by forests.

These owls roost during the day on large branches near the water, often with their mates for company. Come nightfall, the Pel’s Fishing Owl transforms into a silent predator, using its exceptional vision and hearing to snatch fish and frogs from the water’s surface. It is rare though, if you can spot them, that would be great for you!

3. Spotted Eagle-Owl (Struisbaai in South Africa)

The Spotted Eagle-Owl is a common African hunter. This medium-sized owl with spotted plumage and piercing yellow eyes reigns supreme at night. Using its sharp vision and hearing, it hunts rodents, reptiles, and even birds.

They’re adaptable and comfortable in savannas, deserts, or even near human settlements. A valuable predator, they help control rodent populations. So if you’re on a night safari in Africa, listen for their haunting calls.

4. African Scops-Owl

The African Scops-Owl, a tiny titan of the African night, stands just 6-7 inches tall, and is thus smaller than the Eagle-Owl. Despite its size, it’s perfectly equipped for the darkness. Camouflaged feathers hide it during the day, while sharp eyes and ears snag insects at night. These little predators with a surprisingly loud hoot are common throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from woodlands to even gardens.

5. Nightjars

These medium-sized birds are most active at dusk and dawn (as you might have figured out from its name 🙂 ), and are known for their loud, buzzy calls. They have long wings and wide mouths that help them catch insects in mid-air.

After dark, these insectivores take flight with their long, silent wings, scooping up insects with their wide, net-like mouths. Their mottled feathers provide excellent daytime camouflage amongst leaves and branches.

With over 60 unique species, from the standard-winged to the fiery-necked, African nightjars offer a diverse display of nature’s adaptation to the nocturnal world. Some species even embark on incredible migratory journeys, traveling between Africa and Europe or Asia.

6. Bat-winged Pratincole

The Bat-winged Pratincole, also known as the Black-Winged Pratincole adds a touch of the extraordinary to the African night sky. These unique birds are perfectly suited for life after dark. Their most striking feature is their namesake – long, pointed wings that closely resemble those of a bat. This design allows for graceful, silent flight as they hunt for insects in the darkness.

Like other nocturnal birds, Bat-winged Pratincoles have exceptional eyesight and hearing, allowing them to navigate and hunt with ease under the cloak of night. While their overall plumage is dark, these birds often have a flash of white on their underparts. This might be visible during flight, giving them a momentarily ghostly appearance.

Unlike some resident African birds, Bat-winged Pratincoles are migratory. They breed in southeastern Europe and Central Asia before heading to Africa for the winter. Look for them soaring through the skies of southern Africa during the summer months. Spotting a Bat-winged Pratincole is a rare treat for birdwatchers. Their nocturnal habits and preference for open areas make them a bit challenging to see.

7. The Black-Crowned Night Heron,

With eyes adapted for the low light of dusk, the Black Crowned Night Heron is another spectacular sight.

While found on multiple continents, the Black-crowned Night Heron thrives in various African wetland habitats. Freshwater oases, papyrus swamps, sprawling lakes, slow-moving rivers, even some coastal areas – these diverse environments become their home.

This adaptability allows them to flourish across sub-Saharan Africa, from the lush wetlands of the Nile basin to the seasonal pans of southern Africa.

With their long legs and sharp beaks, they stalk their prey patiently in the shallow water. Their silent movements and camouflage – black crown and back contrasting with white underparts – make them nearly invisible to unsuspecting prey.

While the Black-crowned Night Heron is a widespread and common bird, their populations are not without threats.

Look in the Dark: Choosing the Right Night Vision Equipment for Birdwatching at night.

When the blazing African sun dips below the horizon, birdwatchers need the right tools to continue their observations into the night. That’s where night vision technology comes in.

These devices amplify the limited light available at night, such as starlight or moonlight, enabling you to see in near-total darkness. But here’s what you should look for when choosing night vision equipment for birdwatching.

Magnification is crucial.

Opt for binoculars that offer a balance between a wide field of view and the ability to see far enough to identify birds clearly. Typically, a magnification of 7x to 10x works well.

The objective lens diameter also matters; a larger lens (around 50mm or more) will gather more light, enhancing the image’s brightness.

Low-light conditions demand superior light-gathering ability.

Look for binoculars labeled with a high relative brightness index and good resolution to maintain image clarity. Generation 1 devices are usually sufficient for birdwatching and are more affordable. Yet, if budget allows, Generation 2 or 3 devices provide an even clearer view, though at a higher cost.

the best night vision binoculars

Don’t forget battery life.

A long-lasting battery is essential, as you may spend several hours in the field.

Durability should not be overlooked either.

Your binoculars must endure rough handling and potential exposure to the elements, so seek out models with a rugged build and waterproofing.

Remember that it’s not just about seeing the birds. Identifying them successfully requires binoculars that also function well in low-light conditions during dusk or dawn, when some nocturnal birds may still be active or beginning to settle.

Investing wisely in night vision binoculars pays off when you capture that perfect glimpse of seldom-seen nocturnal birds. Now, let’s talk preparation. Safety and comfort are paramount, and I’ll guide you on how to gear up for the unpredictable African terrain.

Check out the best top list for night-watching binoculars

Safeguarding the Safari: Essential Tips for Night Birdwatching Preparations

I always emphasize safety and preparedness when it comes to birdwatching at night in Africa. It’s a spectacular experience, but it does come with its own set of risks. Whether I’m in the savannah or the dense forest, several items are non-negotiable for my safety and comfort, even in the daytime.

  • I start with a reliable insect repellent. Nighttime is prime time for mosquitos and other insects, and malaria can be a serious concern in certain African regions. A high-quality repellent with DEET, or a DEET-free alternative if preferred, is vital.
    Remember, that the mosquito is the number 1 most dangerous animal in Africa!
  • A sturdy flashlight or headlamp is my next priority. Not only does it help me navigate the dark paths, but a light source is also essential in avoiding potentially dangerous encounters with wildlife. I also bring extra batteries or a power bank – being left in the dark is not an option.
  • When I consider the potential presence of predators like lions or hyenas, I ensure that I’m familiar with the area’s wildlife activity and follow the guidelines provided by local experts. In many cases, that means joining guided tours or employing a trained guide for independent excursions.

    Personally, I love the eco-birdwatching tours organized by guides specialized in birdwatching, and I tend to look for those on TripAdvisor.
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  • I also pack protective clothing. Long sleeves and pants shield against thorny underbrush and insects, and sturdy boots are a must for unpredictable terrain. Moreover, packing a light rain jacket caters to the unexpected downpour, a not uncommon occurrence in the African bush.

  • Lastly, I consider the less obvious but equally essential items: a hat for protection against nocturnal critters, and a field guide to identify the birds I encounter. With all this in place, I’m ready to move on to finding the perfect hiding spot to watch the night come alive with birds.
night vision goggles

More FAQs on watching birds at night.

Let’s go over a few questions on night birds that you might also ask yourself:

Why don’t I see birds flying at night and do they even fly around at night?

Most birds are off duty at night! They rest up and stay safe since they can’t see well in the dark and predators are out hunting. But the night shift does exist in the bird world – owls, nighthawks, and some seabirds rule the roost (literally) at night. You might also see birds flying at night if they’re migrating or spooked.

Which bird can see at night?

Owls are the classic bird with exceptional night vision! Their eyes are specially adapted to see well in low light conditions.

Where do birds sleep at night?

Where birds sleep at night depends on the species and its needs:

  • Trees: Most birds, especially songbirds, find safe spots in trees. They might tuck themselves into branches, hide in cavities, or perch high up for shelter and a good vantage point.
  • Nesting boxes: Birds readily use birdhouses and nesting boxes if they’re available, especially if there’s a reliable food source nearby.
  • Water: Water birds like ducks and geese might sleep on the water itself, tucked away in reeds or on protected shorelines.
  • Open areas: Birds in open fields or grasslands might simply find a sheltered spot on the ground to hunker down for the night.

Where do birds go at night and what do they do at night?

At night, most birds head to sheltered spots to rest and stay safe from predators. These spots can vary but are the same as mentioned in the answer above.

What birds hunt at night?

The darkness becomes their playground for these feathered predators:

  • Owls: The undisputed kings and queens of the night, owls have exceptional vision and hearing perfectly suited for hunting in low light. Their large eyes capture a lot of light, and their ability to rotate their heads nearly 360 degrees gives them a wide range of motion.
  • Nighthawks: These insect-eating marvels are active at dusk and dawn, using their long wings and wide mouths to snatch insects in mid-air. Their large eyes help them see well in low-light conditions.
  • Nightjars: Similar to nighthawks, nightjars are nocturnal insectivores with excellent night vision. They often have distinctive calls you might hear at dusk.
  • Caprimulgiformes: This order encompasses a wide variety of nightjars and frogmouths, all sharing adaptations for hunting insects at night.
  • Seabirds: Some seabird species, like petrels and shearwaters, are active at night. They may forage for food or navigate using the stars and the Earth’s magnetic field.

Final Conclusion – The Pros and Cons of Twilight Avian Encounters

Night birdwatching in Africa offers a truly STANDOUT EXPERIENCE. You get to witness behaviors and species that remain elusive during the day. From the ghostly calls of an African owl to the silent flight of nightjars, the continent comes alive in a different light after sunset.

KEEP IN MIND that with each quiet step you take under the starry sky, you tread a shared path with Africa’s nocturnal aviary.

I hope you enjoyed this article on night birdwatching in Africa and if you have any more questions, please feel free to ask them down below in the comment section or join me on my social media pages to take a look at more pictures, videos and stories of my travels to Africa!

I wish you happy travels!

Kind regards,


I now have a YouTube channel as well!


4 thoughts on “Nocturnal Insights On Wild Bird Watching At Night And Evenings – Not Just Star Gazing in Africa!”

  1. Reading your post on nocturnal birdwatching in Africa is like stepping into a whole new world of enchantment! The descriptions of these majestic creatures and the allure of the African night sky truly transport the reader to an experience beyond the ordinary. I’m particularly fascinated by the insights into owl symbolism across different African cultures. It’s intriguing how perceptions of these birds vary so widely, from omens of ill fortune to guardians of wisdom. 

    • hello Stratos!

      Trying to go for birdwatching at night in Africa sure is a challenge, but when you encounter an African owl on the hunt, it sure is the best experience ever! I hope you get to watch or hear them some day 😉

      I wish you happy travels!


  2. Hi, some very good advice here for people. First don’t go alone, so damn important, nature is beautiful and amazing but it is also dangerous. Second insect repellent. I cannot emphasize this enough how important that is. The bugs will love you just a little too much. But it can still be a memorable experience so it’s worth thinking about. 


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