Nocturnal wildlife

Whether you live in the country or a busy city, wildlife is all around. If you keep your eyes and ears open, there's loads of nocturnal nature to be found. Here's a rundown of some of our most exciting night-time wildlife...

Owls

Owls are specialised birds of prey with round heads and rather flat faces.

Most are nocturnal, or active at dawn and dusk (the fancy word for that is 'crepuscular'). 

You may be fortunate to hear a tawny owl, our largest common owl, make its famous call.

But did you know that it's the male tawny owl that goes 'twoooo' and the female that goes 'twit'? In June and July they are quiet, but they begin calling again in August. 

Tawny owls can often be found in woodland, parks and gardens, and are around the same size as a pigeon, with a ring of dark feathers around their face, with large, dark eyes. 

Look out for them resting on a favourite perch, or being pestered by other birds in the daytime.

The barn owl (pictured) is also nocturnal and is mostly found on farmland.

It has a pretty heart-shaped face with a light-brown (almost golden-coloured) back and wings. It is pure white underneath.

If you're planning a Big Wild Sleepout in the country, you may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the barn owl's ghost-like silhouette as it glides through the twilight searching for prey. (Also look out of the car window when you're driving at night.)

Barn owl Tyto alba, perched on fence post, Norfolk
Barn owl

Moths

Many plants come alive at night in order to attract moths and other insects.

You may have used a torch or turned on a porch light and spotted moths flitting in and out of the glare.

Shine a torch on plants in your garden to attract moths into the light or hang a white sheet on a washing line and shine a light on it, as insects often need a surface to rest on.

Moths are attracted to a plant-filled garden with lots of variety and greenery. Night-scented plants are particularly good for moths, and evolved their perfume to attract them to pollinate their flowers. 

What's that moth?

There are about 2,400 different species of moths in the UK, many of which have been recorded in gardens. 

See how many different species of moth you can spot on your sleepout. You can use this website to try and identify them: ukmoths.org.uk 

How to attract them: Mowing your lawn less and letting parts of it grow long will create a sheltered microclimate through which moths and other insects can fly.

Elephant hawk moth
Elephant hawk-moth

Foxes

Foxes are active at dusk and during the night, when they can generally be found alone, searching for food.

They are widespread and common, with more and more choosing to live in urban areas.

Foxes - part of the dog family - are shy animals, so keep an eye out for signs of their presence, such as tracks or greyish, pointy droppings.

Fox families often have several lairs as well as one or more breeding dens, known as earths, within their territory.

The call of the fox is a strange, eerie sound - read and hear more about night-time sounds.

Did you know?

A fox's tail is called a 'brush'.

Red fox

Hedgehogs

If you're very lucky, you may spot a hedgehog foraging for food in your garden.

Hedgehogs have short legs and a round body covered in short, dark, yellow-tipped spines.

Although their numbers have fallen dramatically, they remain widespread throughout Britain.

Despite having poor eyesight, hedgehogs have good hearing and a well-developed sense of smell, which they put to good use on their nocturnal adventures.

Use a torch or the motion-sensitive light in your garden to see if you can spy one. Listen, too - they make funny grunting noises as they move about!

You can help give hedgehogs a home by building a hog-home.

European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeu, in autumnal leaves, Bedfordshire, England
Hedgehog

Badgers

With their black and white-striped faces, it's easy to recognise a badger. 

These shy mammals mostly live in woods, in underground burrows called 'setts', but have begun colonising our towns and cities where they have learned to find food in our gardens.

Male badgers are called 'boars' and a group of badgers is called a 'clan'.

Badgers are omnivores, so they have a varied diet. But their favourite food is a juicy worm! However you could encourage badgers to your garden by leaving out blackberries, unsalted peanuts or dog biscuits on your lawn.

Badger walking through grass, Surrey
Badger

Bats

Look up at dusk, when there’s still some light in the sky. If you’re patient, you might notice something smaller than a bird flitting hurriedly across the sky.

Pipistrelles are our most common bats. They're tiny, with reddish-brown fur and blackish ears, nose and wings.

Like other bats, pipistrelles are nocturnal, emerging at night for a couple of hours to hunt for insects to eat before returning to their roosts on a house, tree or building.

Pipistrelles are agile, fast fliers. They can often be seen where there are trees around.

If you see a bat flying above the surface of a pond or river, it might be a Daubenton's bat.

Bat facts and myth-busters

  1. Bats are not flying mice. In fact they're more closely related to monkeys!
  2. They use sonar to detect their prey and other objects in the dark. Which means they're unlikely to fly into your hair.
  3. British bats also most definitely won't drink your blood. They eat moths and insects.
  4. The largest bat in the world is the gold-crowned fruit bat, with a wingspan of up to 6 feet (1.8 m). The smallest is the bumblebee bat, weighing just 2 g - that's about two teaspoons of sugar.
  5. Baby bats are called 'pups'.
Bat