The Complete Guide To Understanding Sleeping Birds
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The Complete Guide To Understanding Sleeping Birds

Last Updated on by Catherine Tobsing

Mitch,

Have you written about “bird sleep”? I watched an eagle chick go from hatchling to fledgling and during the process, both the chick and parents seemed to sleep only periodically, preening much of the night.

I recently put a night-vision camera on my 35-year-old Amazon’s (1/2 blue-front, 1/2 Panama) cage, and was surprised to see that she seems to preen much of the night as well.

Is this common with all birds?

Thanks,

Bert S.

Great question Bert

Birds (and most animals) are either nocturnal or diurnal.  Nocturnal Birds sleep during the day and hunt at night. 

Diurnal birds are active during the day and perform most of their activities like nesting, feeding, and courtship during daylight hours. Diurnal birds sleep at night for the most part and begin their day at sun up.

As you can see, Kakapos and Night parrots (which were recently rediscovered) are the only “parrots” on this of nocturnal birds.

Ashy storm-petrels – Barn owl  – Barred owl – Boreal owl – Burrowing owl – Eastern screech-owl – Elf owl – Flammulated owl – Frogmouths  – Great gray owl – Great horned owl – Kakapo – Kiwis – Little penguins – Night parrots – Night-herons – Nightjars – North Island brown kiwi – Northern saw-whet owl – Owlet-nightjars – Owls – Short-eared owl – Spotted owl – Western screech-owl – Whiskered screech-owl

Most of the birds mentioned above have dull plumage colors with most females and males looking similar.

Humans can sleep in a relatively unconscious state (I can personally attest to that) whereas birds have some control over their sleep.

Birds use unihemispheric or slow-wave sleep (USWS). Much like a gangster, they are able to sleep with one eye open but unlike a gangster they allow only half the brain to rest.

The reason that most gangsters get caught is that the other half of the brain is asleep whereas a bird’s brain is alert and can react to danger while the other half of the brain, rests.

There’s not been much research done on bird sleep so it’s considered accurate to assume that the safer a bird feels while sleeping, the deeper the sleep.

If a bird feels it may be in danger it sleeps much lighter. Some migrating birds like swifts, frigatebirds, and albatrosses can sleep while in flight using USWS.

As recently as the summer of 2016 researchers using small sensors strapped onto the heads of frigatebirds learned that the birds fell into a mix of USWS and REM (rapid eye movement) deep sleep, in flight.

The birds slept for several minutes each hour and sometimes they would shut down one hemisphere and other times they would shut down both brain hemispheres.

Even with all of these sleep tricks that nature programmed into them, the frigatebirds were found to have slept something like 42 minutes every 24 hours during the migration. Making them highly sleep-deprived for the duration of their long flight.

Birds will protect potentially valuable body parts by burrowing them into their feathers. Most birds can use feathers to create air pockets that insulate enabling more warmth including that of the feet and the beak permitting less body heat to be lost.

When you see a bird’s beak pressed into its feathers you can assume the bird is using that to warm air generated by its own body to heat the air it is breathing.

We’ve talked a lot about the flexor tendons, allowing birds to sleep standing up. If startled a bird will straighten its legs releasing its feet from the perch without thinking, allowing it to take off instantly. (take that aircraft carrier)

Unlike you and me, birds won’t lose a lot of muscle tone while sleeping (although that’s not true over a very long period).

Birds can sleep on a round perch, standing, on the ground, roosting, swimming, hanging, and as we’ve mentioned, flying. Which parrots sleep upside down you ask?

Bismarck hanging parrots – Black-billed hanging parrots – Blue-crowned hanging parrots – Camiguin hanging parrots – Cebu hanging parrots – Great hanging parrots – Moluccan hanging parrots – Orange-fronted hanging parrots – Philippine hanging parrots – Pygmy hanging parrots – Sangihe hanging parrots – Sri Lanka hanging parrots – Sula hanging parrots – Wallace’s Hanging Parrots – Yellow-throated hanging parrots.

Editor’s note: Some of us may add budgies and cockatiels (aka bat birds) for good measure to that list.

Parrots in the wild get their cue as to when to sleep and wake up by sunlight. Usually an 11 to 13-hour cycle because most parrots are found in geographical areas near the equator.

Full moons might keep a flock of parrots up a little later one night but also signal to them what time of year it is.

Overall some of the signals that birds use to determine their sleep cycles can be the latitude that they are at, sunlight availability, and the time of year – something that confuses pet birds enormously because of our North American light cycles.

All parrots like to spend the night in some form of sleep. In the wild, this varies by species. Parrots may sleep with a large flock, sometimes just a pair. Certain species like Golden Conures will find tree cavities to sleep in regardless of their breeding season or not.

I’m sure some of you have birds that tell you in no uncertain terms when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. Many birds offer a dawn salute to ensure they’re getting fed at the proper time in the morning.

Peaches our Senegal will start to gently chirp for precisely 60 seconds before her electronic timer turns on the overhead cage light with a full-spectrum bulb. (I tested that with Alexa)

She will escalate the noise for the next 10 or 15 minutes until the cage doors open so she can join me in my room on her swing next to her food bowl that was refilled the prior evening.

Some captive bird keepers offer two sets of lights. Lights in the ceiling and lights over the cage. The ceiling lights will get turned off 20 to 30 minutes before the cage lights to simulate something of a sunset which finalizes when the cage lights dim to darkness.

Editor’s note: A parrot’s lack of sleep can be a trigger to negative behaviors like screaming, feather plucking, and chronic egg laying.

The most important thing to remember is to synchronize your bird’s sleep and socialization time with your own.

If you work a little later in the evening, it’s not a bad idea to let your bird stay up later in the evening so the two of you can enjoy some face time or watch TV together

Based on my general research, birds that come from equatorial regions need 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.

Indonesian and Australian birds come from much farther south of the equator and they are more forgiving about changing light cycles.

Budgies and cockatiels can sometimes, kinda sorta adapt to North American light cycles but it depends on the season so we still recommend using artificial lighting on timers.

Do budgies take more naps as they get older?

According to Tara81, an experienced budgie owner, she noticed that as her budgies reached 7 years and 6 months old, they started taking more naps than they used to. This suggests that budgies might indeed take more naps as they get older.

For many South American birds like Amazons, Macaws and Conures, it (daily light cycle) may or may not make a difference, so as I like to say “test for everything”.

Some parrots are docile and sleep most of the night. Many parrots like many humans do get munchies in the middle of the night so fresh food and water should be made available throughout the sleep cycle.

Bert’s observations indicated his Amazons preened all night. Were they sleep-preening like sleepwalking? Hard to say.

Is it okay to cover the cage, but still have the lights on in the room after they are covered up?

If the bird’s sleeping cage is in a quiet environment, covering it will be all that is necessary. If the bird cage resides in a social area of the home it may be wise to put the bird into a smaller sleeping cage and then place it in a silent room for the night.

Some birds like cockatiels are susceptible to night frights. This can be dangerous because when the birds spook they can flap uncontrollably and fall to the bottom of the cage possibly injuring a wing or leg.

We do offer night lamps for birds that provide a gentle form of moonlight giving the bird restful darkness but not total darkness.

At the-end-of-the-day, we can’t tell you exactly what your bird-like cycle should be and what your bird is doing while it is experiencing the dark side of the light cycle. We simply wanted to offer a guide on how to best determine your own bird’s light cycles and birdcage environmental needs.

If you’ve got more to add to this conversation, we encourage comments below.

Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing

your zygodactyl footnote

How many hours of sleep/darkness do cockatiels need?
Cockatiels require 10-12 hours of sleep or darkness to maintain their overall well-being. Providing them with a consistent and adequate amount of restful sleep is essential for their health and behavior.

Could lack of sleep be a cause for feather picking in lovebirds?
Lack of sleep can potentially contribute to behavioral issues in birds, including feather picking. Ensuring that lovebirds receive enough sleep and uninterrupted rest can help reduce the likelihood of feather-picking behaviors.

What time should the cage be covered and uncovered?
The cage should be covered around 8:30 PM or a bit later and then uncovered around 6:00 AM. This schedule allows for a sufficient duration of darkness and sleep for the birds.

Is it okay to cover the cage but still have the lights on in the room after they are covered up?
It is generally recommended to provide a dark and quiet environment for birds when they are sleeping. Having the lights on in the room while the cage is covered may not provide the ideal conditions for restful sleep.

“The most important thing to remember is to synchronize your bird’s sleep and socialization time with your own. If you work a little later in the evening, it’s not a bad idea to let your bird stay up later in the evening so the two of you can enjoy some face-time or watch TV together. If the bird’s sleeping cage is in a quiet environment, covering it will be all that is necessary. If the bird cage resides in a social area of the home, it may be wise to put the bird into a smaller sleeping cage and then place in a silent room for the night. We do offer night lamps for birds that provide a gentle form of moonlight giving the bird restful darkness but not total darkness.

Now, regarding the specific concern you have about covering the cage but still having the lights on in the room after they are covered up, it’s important to ensure that your bird gets enough sleep and darkness. While covering the cage provides a visual cue for your bird that it’s time to sleep, having the lights on in the room might disrupt their sleep patterns. Birds, like cockatiels, typically require 10-12 hours of sleep/darkness to maintain their well-being.

To address this, it would be beneficial to consider adjusting the timing of covering the cage and turning off the lights in the room. If you cover the cage around 8:30 PM, it would be ideal to also turn off the lights in the room at the same time or shortly after. This will provide a more conducive sleeping environment for your bird. Then, in the morning, around 6:00 AM, you can uncover the cage and let the natural daylight gradually enter the room.

If, however, the bird’s cage is located in a social area of your home where it might be difficult to maintain a quiet environment, you may want to consider using a smaller sleeping cage that can be placed in a silent room for the night. This will provide your bird with the necessary darkness and minimize disturbances during sleep.

If you’re concerned about providing complete darkness for your bird, we also offer night lamps designed specifically for birds. These lamps provide a gentle form of moonlight, giving your bird restful darkness while still allowing some ambient light in the room.

In conclusion, it’s important to prioritize your bird’s sleep by synchronizing their sleep and socialization time with your own.

Considering the environment of the bird’s cage, covering it and providing darkness are crucial for their well-being. Adjusting the timing of covering the cage and turning off the lights in the room, or using a smaller sleeping cage in a silent room, can help create an optimal sleep environment for your bird.

Additionally, night lamps designed for birds can offer a balance between darkness and ambient light. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your bird gets the necessary sleep and minimize any potential disruptions that may contribute to feather picking or other issues.”

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I work with a couple of parrot rescues on the Florida Gulf coast, and have kept parrots for a very long time. I just wanted to pass along a trick for people with birds who might get night frights and you have limited space to provide a smaller cage or leaving lights on may be problematic because of other birds in the vicinity. You can almost always slip three or four 1X4 boards between the cage bars a little more than half-way up the cage when they go to bed, put a towel or paper on them for waste. Most parrots react to the smaller space in a comfort mode and stop having problems at night. If they do come off their perch in the night, they have much less fall-space to hurt themselves.
    I discovered this trick with an African Gray who would, apparently, fall off his perch in the night, then get confused and get stuck under his ladder, running into the cage bars over and over, I think, trying to figure out where he was. After one night of three episodes, I put a bunch of empty cardboard boxes in the bottom of the cage and covered them with towels to keep him from falling so far. It seemed to work, and he slept well the rest of the night.
    The next day I cut some boards and fit them in, and he has not had a problem for three years. It is also useful it you have an injured parrot, or a special-needs parrot, ( which I do) as it allows you to configure the cage better for them, instead of having to put them in a large cage for horizontal space, and leaving the possibility of more injury from a fall, or settling on a small cage, which limits the fall possibilities, but also limits their horizontal movement.
    It is also easy and inexpensive! But… remember… to a parrot, everything is a chew-toy. If you leave the boards in all the time, be prepared to replace them when your parrot decides they are fun to destroy! Only use pine or another safe lumber.

    1. Thank you for this info! My 2 keets don’t have night frights often, but this may give them a more secure sense they are safe at night.

      1. It is one of those3 things that are still hard-wired from their natural state. In the wild, budgie flocks often sleep in, and perched on, tall grass. If the grass moves, they all take flight to avoid the predator. What I tell most people with birds, is that you need to remember, in the wild everybody eats parrots, they eat nobody. They are always the prey and never the predator, so they are hard-wired to be cautious. That’s why gaining their trust means so much. Good luck with your keets.
        Lynne

  2. I work with a couple of parrot rescues on the Florida Gulf coast, and have kept parrots for a very long time. I just wanted to pass along a trick for people with birds who might get night frights and you have limited space to provide a smaller cage or leaving lights on may be problematic because of other birds in the vicinity. You can almost always slip three or four 1X4 boards between the cage bars a little more than half-way up the cage when they go to bed, put a towel or paper on them for waste. Most parrots react to the smaller space in a comfort mode and stop having problems at night. If they do come off their perch in the night, they have much less fall-space to hurt themselves.
    I discovered this trick with an African Gray who would, apparently, fall off his perch in the night, then get confused and get stuck under his ladder, running into the cage bars over and over, I think, trying to figure out where he was. After one night of three episodes, I put a bunch of empty cardboard boxes in the bottom of the cage and covered them with towels to keep him from falling so far. It seemed to work, and he slept well the rest of the night.
    The next day I cut some boards and fit them in, and he has not had a problem for three years. It is also useful it you have an injured parrot, or a special-needs parrot, ( which I do) as it allows you to configure the cage better for them, instead of having to put them in a large cage for horizontal space, and leaving the possibility of more injury from a fall, or settling on a small cage, which limits the fall possibilities, but also limits their horizontal movement.
    It is also easy and inexpensive! But… remember… to a parrot, everything is a chew-toy. If you leave the boards in all the time, be prepared to replace them when your parrot decides they are fun to destroy! Only use pine or another safe lumber.

    1. Thank you for this info! My 2 keets don’t have night frights often, but this may give them a more secure sense they are safe at night.

      1. It is one of those3 things that are still hard-wired from their natural state. In the wild, budgie flocks often sleep in, and perched on, tall grass. If the grass moves, they all take flight to avoid the predator. What I tell most people with birds, is that you need to remember, in the wild everybody eats parrots, they eat nobody. They are always the prey and never the predator, so they are hard-wired to be cautious. That’s why gaining their trust means so much. Good luck with your keets.
        Lynne

  3. My rose-breasted cockatoo has night frights, often occurring during the day when he’s napping, I hear a scream, flapping wings, and a thud. I check on him to make sure he’s okay. He always is fine, but a little grumpy.

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