13 Types Of NIGHT BIRDS In Illinois (ID Guide With SOUNDS)

Did you recently come across a night bird in the state of Illinois, and want to know what species it was?

Identifying nocturnal birds in the Prairie State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many night birds in the state, and it’s hard to get a good look at them in the dark.

To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common night birds of Illinois and their sounds in this article.

Types of night birds in Illinois

What are the types of night birds in Illinois (and what are their sounds)?

There are 13 types of night birds found in Illinois, which are covered in full detail below. 

And if you’re wondering what noise these Illinois birds make at night, read on below, as we’ll also cover their nocturnal sounds.

Northern Mockingbird

Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos

Photo of Northern Mockingbird adult

Sound of Northern Mockingbird:

(Recording source: Sue Riffe, XC664292, www.xeno-canto.org/664292)

The melodious whistling song of the Northern Mockingbird can be heard on moonlit nights in many parts of Illinois.

And while the Northern Mockingbird is active during the day, young males sing most actively during the night between midnight and 4 AM.

The Northern Mockingbird is a common backyard bird and year-round resident in Illinois. If you have one of these songsters in your neighborhood, you’ll hear them every night.

This bird is the only mockingbird species found in North America. It prefers wooded areas as well as urban habitats with sufficient tree growth, such as parks and golf courses.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Scientific name: Icteria virens

Photo of Yellow-breasted Chat

Sound of Yellow-breasted Chat:

(Recording source: Richard E. Webster, XC766370, www.xeno-canto.org/766370)

The Yellow-breasted Chat is another songbird that makes noise at night. Similar to Northern Mockingbirds, these birds chirp at night in Illinois in order to attract mates.

Yellow-breasted Chats are common summer visitors and breeding birds in Illinois, where they occur from May through August.

These yellow Illinois birds are between the size of a sparrow and a robin. They have an olive-green back and a bright yellow breast, a gray face, and a distinct white eyebrow stripe.

They can usually be found in dense areas such as thickets, bramble bushes, shrubs, and along streams.

The diet of this bird consists of small insects, such as moths, beetles, ants, and grasshoppers. They also eat berries such as wild grapes and elderberries.

Common Nighthawk

Scientific name: Chordeiles minor

Photo of Common Nighthawk in flight

Sound of Common Nighthawk:

(Recording source: Peter Ward and Ken Hall, XC613899, www.xeno-canto.org/613899)

The Common Nighthawk is another member of the nightjar family that is dark brown with white comma-shaped markings on its wings.

The bright white bars on their wings are very conspicuous during flight, and this is a great feature for identifying them.

Nighthawks are most active at dusk and dawn, and if you see one in low light conditions, it looks mostly black with white stripes on its wing.

During the summer, the Common Nighthawk is a regular breeding bird in Illinois, but it is a strict migratory species, and spends the winter in South America.

It breeds in a wide variety of open woodland habitats, including urban areas. It feeds on insects that it catches in flight.


Scientific name: Antrostomus carolinensis

Photo of Chuck-will’s-widow resting on a branch

Chuck-will’s-widow call:

(Recording source: Ron Overholtz, XC555492 , www.xeno-canto.org/555492 )

The Chuck-will’s-widow is the largest member of the nightjar family in North America, and is a rare summer visitor in western and southern parts of Illinois.

This nightjar is most active around dusk and during the night, while it rests on a branch or on the ground during the day.

While it’s difficult to see these well camouflaged birds, the best way to identify them is by their melodious 5-syllable call during the night.

They hunt flying insects, which they catch while flying low over the ground in the dark of the night.

Eastern Whip-poor-will

Scientific name: Antrostomus vociferus

Photo of Eastern Whip-poor-will resting during the day

Eastern Whip-poor-will sound:

(Recording source: Paul Driver, XC772248 , www.xeno-canto.org/772248 )

The Eastern Whip-poor-will is another member of the nightjar family in Illinois.

It is a summer bird breeding in eastern parts of the Prairie State.

Eastern Whip-poor-wills are best identified by their famous 3-syllable nocturnal song, but they are largely silent when wintering in Illinois.

These birds are most active at dawn or at dusk, and this is the best time to spot them as they dart through the air in search of flying insects, or by listening for the strange sound they make.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Scientific name: Nycticorax nycticorax

Photo of adult Black-crowned Night-heron

Black-crowned Night Heron sound:

(Recording source: Jens Kirkeby, XC235340 , www.xeno-canto.org/235340 )

The Black-crowned Night-Heron is true to its name, and is most active at dusk and during the night, when it forages for frogs and small fish in Illinois wetlands.

This heron is a common breeding bird in Illinois, though it can be hard to spot during the day, unless you find its day-time hiding spots.

Another great distinguishing feature of this heron are its strange bird sounds, which resemble barking or loud squawking, and which it utters at dusk when it flies out from its roost.

These herons are social birds, and usually nest in colonies that share the same nesting tree.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Scientific name: Nyctanassa violacea

Photo of Yellow-crowned Night-Heron adult

Yellow-crowned Night Heron sound:

(Recording source: Paul Marvin, XC538163 , www.xeno-canto.org/538163 )

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is not quite as nocturnal as its Black-crowned relative, and can be seen foraging both during the day and the night.

These night herons are rare summer visitors and breeding birds in southern parts of Illinois, and can be encountered in other parts of the state during migration.

They are most often found in swamps and other wetlands with plenty of cover, where they feed on small fish and crustaceans. 

Great Horned Owl

Scientific name: Bubo virginianus

Photo of Great Horned Owl perched on a stump

Great Horned Owl call:

(Recording source: Christopher McPherson, XC691461, www.xeno-canto.org/691461)

With a wingspan up to 4 feet, the Great Horned Owl is the largest owl species breeding in Illinois.

It is a large brown-colored bird with two ear tufts (also called horns) and big yellow eyes. In Illinois, this owl starts its nesting very early in the year, laying its eggs in January or February. 

This owl is almost entirely nocturnal, and can hunt in complete darkness by relying on its keen sense of hearing.

The Great Horned Owl doesn’t build its own nest, but instead occupies the nests of other large birds in Illinois, such as herons or raptors.

It is found year-round throughout Illinois, and can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Illinois, from woodlands to urban areas.

This owl is a fierce hunter, catching birds up to the size of ducks, and mammals up to the size of squirrels, rabbits, and even young foxes.

Barn Owl

Scientific name: Tyto alba

Photo of Barn Owl

Barn Owl sound:

(Recording source: Jayrson De Oliveira, XC619814, www.xeno-canto.org/619814)

Somewhat softer and less intense-looking than the Great Horned Owl, Barn Owls are characterized by their white coat of feathers, and their “friendlier” appearance.

Armed with exceptional night vision, Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal raptors and therefore hard to spot. However, they can be readily identified by their characteristic screeching calls.

And if you do spot one flying overhead by the light of the moon, you may be able to see the glow of their white underside.

These owls are present in Illinois all year round, and favor open areas and farmland as their hunting grounds.

Barred Owl

Scientific name: Strix varia

Photo of Barred Owl

Barred Owl sound:

(Recording source: Jim Berry, XC713081, www.xeno-canto.org/713081)

The Barred Owl was originally a bird of eastern North America, but it steadily expanded its range westwards over the past century.

This owl can be encountered in the eastern parts of Illinois anywhere there are suitable habitats. 

Similar to other owls, the Barred Owl is easiest to find by listening for its characteristic hooting call at night.

Their preferred habitat is mature forests bordering swamps. They readily accept nest boxes that are set up in old trees.

Long-eared Owl

Scientific name: Asio otus

Photo of Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl call:

(Recording source: Baltasar Pinheiro, XC737794, www.xeno-canto.org/737794)

These well-camouflaged, elusive owls are smaller than the aforementioned species, and are year-round residents in Illinois.

They use their favored habitat of dense wooded areas to prey on the small rodents and animals that call the nearby grasslands their home.

Similar to other owl species, Long-eared Owls can fly completely silently due to fringes on their flight feathers.

Together with their keen sense of hearing, this enables these owls to catch prey by surprising it in the dark of the night.

But despite their best efforts to remain hidden, these owls can be identified by their long, low hoots.

Another great characteristic for identifying these owls is by their elongated tufts of feathers on the ears, and their droppings found underneath conifer trees close to grassy areas.

Short-eared Owl

Scientific name: Asio flammeus

Photo of Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl call:

(Recording source: Lars Edenius, XC718743, www.xeno-canto.org/718743)

The Short-eared Owl is a highly migratory owl species, and while it doesn’t breed in Illinois, it is regularly observed in the state outside of the breeding season.

Short-eared Owls are more often observed hunting in daylight than other owls species.

Together with their hunting tactic of flying low over the ground in open areas, this makes these owls relatively easy to spot.

You can encounter these owls in Illinois in any kind of open landscapes, including farmland, airports, and fallow land.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii

Photo of Eastern Screech-owl

Eastern Screech Owl sound:

(Recording source: Wisconagus, XC690687, www.xeno-canto.org/690687)

Originally birds of open woodlands, Eastern Screech-Owls have adapted very well to urban habitats, and are regularly found in parks, large gardens, and golf courses.

They breed in tree cavities, and are best identified by their characteristic series of accelerating hoots.

These owls are common throughout central and east Illinois and can be seen all year round. 

They have a very varied diet, which includes any type of small animal ranging from worms to insects and rodents.

Eastern Screech-Owls readily accept artificial nesting cavities, which means you can attract them to your backyard by setting up nest boxes.

What birds sing at night in Illinois?

The birds that sing at night in Illinois are most often Northern Mockingbirds.

Mockingbirds singing at night are usually young male birds trying to attract a mate. They sing at night during most of the year, except for the fall.

In addition to mockingbirds, other common Illinois birds that sing at night are nightjars and owls.

Finally, Yellow-breasted Chats also sing at night, and these birds are common summer visitors in Illinois.


In summary, here are the 13 most common nocturnal birds found in Illinois:

  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Common Nighthawk
  • Chuck-will’s-widow
  • Eastern Whip-poor-will
  • Black-crowned Night-heron
  • Yellow-crowned Night-heron
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Barn Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Long-eared Owl
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Eastern Screech-Owl

While this is a diverse list of bird species (including nightjars, songbirds, owls, and herons), they all have in common that they are entirely or partially active at night.  

Many of these night birds are found all year in Illinois, but a number of them only occur in the state only during the breeding season in summer, or as winter visitors.

The varied habitats of Illinois are home to more than 400 different species of birds, and nighttime birds make up a significant proportion of this rich avifauna.

Ranging from whippoorwills to nighthawks and owls, these night birds play a vital role in the ecology of their habitats.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the black birds of Illinois.

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