Strange Bird Sounds At Night – Is it the bird of death?

Are you hearing strange bird sounds at night? Hearing weird sounds at night can be a little eerie and unsettling. If you are the superstitious type, you might consider these noises to be some kind of bad omen, even a symbol of impending death.

Strange bird sounds at night are not necessarily symbols of death, bad luck, or misfortune. Many birds will make sounds at night as they are nocturnal which means they are most active during the dark hours. However, many races and religions have long believed some birds to be harbingers of death.

In this article, we are going to explore the mysterious bird sounds that may be heard at night. You will also read a first-hand account of a very creepy encounter with a nocturnal noisemaker that preceded a family death.

What Is The Bird Of Death?

a graveyard shrouded in mist with the shadow of a raven flying in the top right

The bird of death is a bird thought to symbolize either impending death or death that has already occurred. Many birds have earned this moniker including Ravens, Crows, Owls, Vultures, Buzzards, and even the Cardinal. Some of these superstitions come from indigenous cultures, religions, or folklore.

Are any of these birds truly the “bird of death” though? Can seeing or hearing them really cause bad luck or signal the end of life? Let’s explore some of them and find out a little more about these birds that we associate with death.

Discover more birds that will shock you in this article here on my blog.

Can Vultures Sense Death?

One bird of death that most people are familiar with is the Vulture.

a Griffon Vulture perched on a rock in the sun
Griffon Vulture – image by valio84sl from Getty Images Pro

Vultures appear as the harbingers of death in many Hollywood films. When they begin circling above the hero trudging bloodied and sweaty through the desert, we know he is close to his demise.

Vultures feed on dead things. They have incredible eyesight and a very keen sense of smell. It is thought they can detect the smell of chemicals produced by a dead animal from kilometers away.

a vulture tearing at a carcass with its talons
Vulture at a carcass in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya – image by Leopardinatree from Getty Images Signature

They will pick clean any carcass they feed upon and will in fact clean up to 70% of the carrion in their environment.

Vultures may in fact be able to detect if an animal is about to die both from the way it is moving, and also from traces of chemicals their bodies produce close to death.

Vultures do not come out at night and don’t really have any “calls” so to speak as they do not have a voice box. They will make grunting noises, or hiss like the Turkey Vultures in the recording below:

Recorded by Andrew Spencer near Trumansburg, Tompkins County, New York. From

The Spiritual Meaning Of Ravens

Ravens are often thought to be psychopomps, creatures responsible for escorting newly deceased souls to the afterlife.

a raven perched on a branch in front of a cloudy moonlit sky
Raven – image by Michal Collection on

Their glossy black feathers, eerie calls, and tendency to feed on carrion all give these birds an air of wickedness. This has haunted many cultures and led to them being an addition to many horror films.

In Greek mythology, Ravens are said to be a symbol of bad luck. In Irish mythology, they are associated with war and the battleground. In Serbian epic poems, they are linked to death, specifically the aftermath of a bloody battle.

Discover how to tell the difference between ravens, crows, and blackbirds in this article.

a Forest Raven perched on a branch
Forest Raven – image by phototrip from Getty Images

Ravens will make sounds at night. You may have heard their nighttime caws before:

Forest Raven

Recorded at 6:39 PM by Patrick Åberg in the Hobart botanical garden, Tasmania, Australia. From

Australian Raven

Recorded at 7:00 PM by Jeremy Hegge in the Royal National Park, New South Wales. From

Northern Raven

Recorded at 11:39 PM by Leszek Matacz in Gmina Twardogóra (near Gola Wielka), Oleśnica County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland. From

Ravens are exceptional mimics also. They are able to copy the sounds of many other animals, including human voices. The creepy thing is that they are able to make deep sounds of a male voice or the higher pitch of female voices.

Imagine walking along a dark road at night and hearing Mischief the talking raven saying “hello” from the bushes beside you:

What Does It Mean When You See Crows?

Just like Ravens, Crows are also associated with death and other dark things.

a crow perched on a branch against a moonlit cloudy sky
Crow against moonlit clouds – image by sipaphoto from Getty Images

Crows may have earned this association because, like Ravens, they are black, eat dead things and make eerie noises.

The Yanyuwa Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory in Australia believe that crows attack spirits on their way to the afterlife?!

The crows are said to be angry with people for chasing them away from campsites when they were living. They attack their souls with digging sticks on their way to the next world.

a murder of Toressian Crows eating a kangaroo carcass
Torresian Crows eating a Kangaroo carcass – image by Patrick Honan from Getty Images

Crows will make some very creepy sounds at night that can be unnerving. Torresian Crows especially can make a sound that could easily be confused for laughter:

Torresian Crow

Recorded at 4:30 AM by Greg McLachlan in Maleny, Sunshine Coast Regional, Queensland, Australia. From

Amercian Crow

Recorded at 9:45 PM by Ves in Wellington, Sumner County, Kansas. From

House Crow

Recorded at Midnight by Zhou Zhe 周哲 in Pasir Ris Park, Singapore. From

What Do Owls Mean Spiritually?

We have long known Owls to be creatures of the night and it is perhaps this association with the darkness that makes us link them with death.

three barn owls perched on a branch illuminated against a black background
Barn Owls – image by Somya Dinkar from Pexels

In most Native American tribes, Owls signify death. Some tribes believe that the call of an owl means someone is going to die.

In Africa, many people associate the owl with sorcery and evil magic.

Some owls can make some pretty scary sounds at night.

American Barn Owl

Recorded at 11:35 PM by Greg Irving in Dungeness Recreation Area, Clallam County, Washington. From

Imagine hearing this demonic scream coming from the trees around you:

Australian Masked Owl

Recorded at 10:30 PM by Marc Anderson in Mountain Valley Private Nature Reserve, Loongana, Tasmania. From
an Australian Masked Owl perched on a branch during the day
Australian Masked Owl – image by chameleonseye from Getty Images

Read about a fearless Owl species from North America here in this post on my blog.

Barred Owl

Recorded at 8:30 PM by Bruce Lagerquist in Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve, Okeechobee County, Florida. From

What The Northern Cardinal Symbolizes

The Northern Cardinal is associated with death also but in a more positive way.

a Northern Cardinal perched on a log
Northern Cardinal – image by Ronald Hood from Getty Images Pro

It is thought that Northern Cardinals are messengers for the spirit world and will visit those who have lost a loved one.

Many Native American tribes believed cardinals to be messengers that would carry information to and from the spirit world.

The sounds Northern Cardinals make could not necessarily be considered creepy or frightening but they will make them very early in the morning or late at night.

Northern Cardinal Example 1

Recorded at 11:30 PM by Avery Scott in North Hempstead (near Williston Park), Nassau County, New York. From

Northern Cardinal Example 2

Recorded at 6:35 AM by Brian T. Smith in Portal, Cochise County, Arizona. From

Discover more American bird species in this post here on my blog.

Strange Bird Sound At Night

Listen to the bird sound below:

Recorded at 11:30 PM by Marc Anderson in Paroo Darling National Park, New South Wales. From

That particular bird noise has haunted my family and me for 21 years. Read on to find out why…

I want to take you back to August 2000, to a little community in Victoria, Australia called Mardan. This is where I grew up with my sister, my mother, and my father, on my parent’s dairy farm.

The farm was 163 acres and in the middle of it on one side stood our 3-bedroom weatherboard home.

left - a poloaroid of a farm house with a dog and cat
right - a woman mowing grass in front of a greenhouse

The house was surrounded on all sides by huge Cyprus Pines and beyond them at the back was a plantation of tall Gum trees.

Late one very dark and eerily still night early in August of 2000, we heard a strange sound coming from the trees at the back of the house. It wasn’t really a whistle and not a hoot either, it was something none of us had heard before.

It was sounding once around every ten or twenty seconds, would fall silent, and then start up again.

We stood on the back porch, staring out into the darkness beneath the trees, feeling increasingly uneasy as we tried to figure out what this strange sound could be.

a light shining through a misty forest at night

My Dad decided to take a torch and head out into the trees to try and find what was making this strange noise.

I remember feeling quite anxious standing there staring into the blackness watching the flickering of his torchlight move back and forth.

The sound stopped soon after he got out into the trees. After perhaps five or ten minutes of searching, he could find no trace of anything.

My father was a brave man and was not really unsettled by the whole situation. He came back claiming it must have been some kind of animal and it must have left the area when he went out there.

We all headed off to bed.

I struggled to get to sleep that night as I felt that sound had something very dark and mysterious about it. I have always been a very spiritual person, not religious but very aware of my own spirituality and of the existence of things beyond our physical world.

Are Birds Spiritual Messengers?

We heard the same strange sound a couple more times after that night. It didn’t have meaning to us until later that month…

On the 24th of August 2000, my father died of a massive heart attack. He was helping a local farmer load calves onto a truck when he just fell to the ground.

The farmer tried in vain to revive him. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics could do nothing for him either.

Amidst the turmoil of greaving that followed, I forgot all about that strange bird sound from that night and the ones that followed.

a silhouette of a man kneeling at a grave in a cemetary
Grieving man – image by tap10 from Getty Images Signature

It has always been in my mind though and in the minds of my mother and sister. I remember a conversation I had with my mother about it. We speculated that it might have been some kind of spirit that was warning or perhaps signaling the impending death of our beloved husband and father.

I have spent the last 21 years expecting that I might hear that sound again. I have almost been dreading it, believing that it could have been some kind of spiritual messenger bird that calls before someone dies. However, I have not heard it since.

An Answer To The Strange Bird Call At Night

I have not spent any time or effort searching for the creature that might have made that sound that dark, still night in Mardan. I simply accepted that it must have been a message from beyond, a warning perhaps that my wonderful father was about to be taken from us.

Ironically, it was not until I started researching strange bird calls at night for this blog post that I finally heard that sound again…

The recording above is that of an Australian Owlet-nightjar.

an Australian Owlet Nightjar standing on the ground
Australian Owlet-nightjar – image by nmulconray from Getty Images

When I pressed play on that recording the same eerie, uneasy feeling from that night washed through me. This was it?! I finally had an answer for the mystery of that unnerving sound from the darkness surrounding our home that night.

Now as we have already discovered in this article, Owls are a symbol of death in many cultures. The problem here is that Owlet-nightjars are not in fact Owls.

a close-up of an Australian Owlet Nightjar in a tree hollow
Australian Owlet-nightjar – image by Patrick Kavanah from Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

The name “owlet-nightjar” refers to the similarities these birds have with both owls and nightjars. They are however more closely related to swifts than owls and nightjars. Does this mean they cannot be considered a bad omen?

Owlet-Nightjars In Indigenous Culture

an Indigenous Australian man during a smoking ceremony
Indigenous Australian man – image by Luke Currie-Richardson from

In many Aboriginal tribes, owls and other night birds were always feared and considered to be associated with malevolent spirits.

It is our contention that owls, tawny frogmouths and other related night birds (such as nightjars and owlet-nightjars) were probably all traditionally categorized into a group or class of bird known as winnaitch referring to night birds, spirits of the night or warra (bad).

Ken McIntyre and Barb Dobson

The quote above from an article on suggests that many indigenous people would have considered every night bird to be associated with bad spirits.

So was the call of the owlet-nightjar we heard that night calling my father’s spirit to the other side? We may never know.

an Australian Owlet Nightjar perched the branch of a gum tree
Australian Owlet-nightjar – image by Brian McCauley from Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I try to keep a level head about such things. I look for a logical explanation in most things while still keeping an open mind to the spiritual and supernatural.

Finally finding a living thing that belongs to the sound we heard that night gave me a huge sense of relief. However, there is still no denying the intense feeling that there is something more to it.

I can’t simply explain away how much that sound affected me on a deeply spiritual level. The fact that we heard it so soon before my father’s death holds too much credence to be a mere coincidence.

an Australian Owlet Nightjar perched the branch
Australian Owlet-nightjar – image by Steve Dew from Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

As I am still trying to grasp an understanding of this, I am going to leave it up to you to decide for yourself. What do you believe? Are certain birds messengers of the spirit world or mystic harbingers of death?

Whatever meaning the sound of that Owlet-nightjar had, I hope that my father’s spirit was able to pass gently. I still feel his presence from time to time and feel a great sense of peace during those times.

In any case, if I am to be ushered to the other side by anything, I am grateful that it may be a bird of some kind…


Barry Callister

Barry is a bird photographer and bird watcher with over 7 years of experience. He runs his own YouTube channel about photography and promotes his nature photography on his personal website

Recent Posts