What’s more fascinating in your backyard than the things you can’t see? There are so many creatures that make noises at night, whether they’re trying to attract mates, foraging for food, or even just warning off predators. These nighttime creatures range from insects and frogs to birds and mammals. They live in the soil, in the wood, and in the treetops. Let’s get started… from the ground up!
For being so small, insects can make an awful lot of noise. Nighttime insects fall into two categories: insects that are nocturnal and make noises to attract mates, and insects that eat noisily. Often insects’ loud noises are mechanical: the result of two hard objects moving against each other.
Katydids and crickets are excellent examples of nighttime noise-making insects. These insects, which belong to the same Order (Orthoptera) make noises in similar ways: by rubbing their wings together. These insects usually make their chirping noises to attract mates or to warn off predators.
We’ve probably all observed a cricket making their chirping noises, but have you ever seen a huge katydid making theirs? Check out this clip from the Toronto Zoo.
Another set of insects also makes nighttime noises: wood-boring insects. Story time:
Working at Dogwood Alliance, I live in rural Western North Carolina. A few years ago, I was noticing a weird grinding noise while taking my dogs out at night. I searched the internet high and low for possible reptile, mammal, or bird species that could be responsible for the noise. Then, one day, aggravated, I pinpointed the noise to some downed wood I had in my backyard. A few searches later, and I had my answer: wood-boring beetle larvae were having dinner! They were feasting on the downed log! You can hear a similar noise here:
Among reptiles and amphibians, frogs are our most musical friends. There are so many species of frogs, and they each have very unique calls. Entire fields of science have been built around recording and analyzing sounds to figure out how much biodiversity there is around us.
In the Eastern United States, the “spring peeper”, Pseudacris (Hyla) crucifer, is among the most iconic frog noises that you can hear at night. Spring peepers live primarily in forests near temporary wetlands. Here’s their song:
Interested in more frog sounds? Here’s a video compilation of some frogs from Ohio. There are many overlapping and wide-ranging species across the Eastern United States, so I’m sure you’ll hear some familiar noises.
The birds you hear at night can be some of the most fascinating singers out there. Most of them will be owls, but you may not recognize them as owls! Did you know that not all owls make that distinctive “Who who” sound that we learn as children? Which of these owl sounds do you recognize?
Owls are some of my favorite creatures. There are a few moments of my life that have been marked by owls and etched into my memories. Story time:
In 2014, a few friends, my partner, and I went camping in the Adirondacks region of New York. It was June, but it was cold at night, down into the 40s. About half of us were camping in hammocks. During that trip, two things happened that stick in my memory: (1) my partner and I got engaged and (2) three Barred Owls woke us up in the middle of the night, calling to each other. Their noises were so strange and, at 3am, hilarious. It was a perfectly quiet night, until these owls interrupted with their raucous songs.
I wasn’t big into birds at the time, so we had to wait for an internet connection to look up what kind of owl it was. My partner and I were so enamored with them that we ended up getting matching owl tattoos later on.
As long as humans have had oral history, we’ve had tales of things that go bump in the night. Our nighttime predators all have unique sounds, but they’re not usually out to hurt us. Both predators and prey mammals make noises at night, and those noises are often a mix of chirps, screams, squeals, grunts, and growls. If you’re out alone at night, it can be pretty intimidating to hear your wild neighbors. But, never fear, most night sounds have a source, and it’s not nearly as scary as you’d think!
People commonly report nighttime noises that sound like “screaming” in the woods. These “screams” are often just foxes going about their evenings! Here’s a great example of a UK fox vocalizing with a friend on camera:
You may also hear coyotes speaking to each other at night. I most often hear the coyotes near my house chatting like this right before dawn:
Bobcats, which can have an average weight of 19 lbs as an adult, can sound much bigger than they are when they growl or grunt nearby. They have a wide variety of chirps and trills at their disposal. Bobcats are pretty rare to see, but I’ve been lucky enough to see two bobcats in the wild in my lifetime: one in California, and one right here in North Carolina. Here’s some of their noises.
Remember, if you’re out at night, take appropriate precautions. Wear reflective clothing, make noise, and have a plan if you do encounter wildlife. The vast majority of nighttime wildlife just want to be left alone. Never approach or harass wildlife of any kind, especially mammals.
Did you enjoy learning about these nighttime treasures? If so, why not show us?
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