Do Birds Close Their Eyes When They Sleep?

Birds are fascinating creatures that have captured people’s interest and imagination for centuries. One question that often comes up about our feathered friends is whether they close their eyes when sleeping, just like humans do. If you’re curious to learn the answer, you’ve come to the right place!

Here’s a quick overview if you’re short on time: Most bird species do close their eyes when they sleep, with some exceptions like ducks and ostriches that can sleep with one eye open. Read on for a deep dive into the details.

Bird Sleep Patterns and Eye Closure

When it comes to sleep patterns, birds have some fascinating habits. One question that often arises is whether birds close their eyes when they sleep. Let’s explore this topic and uncover some interesting insights about bird sleep behavior.

Light vs. REM Sleep in Birds

Unlike humans, birds do not experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is characterized by intense brain activity and is associated with dreaming. Instead, birds have a unique sleep pattern that consists of both light and deep sleep stages.

During light sleep, birds can keep one eye open while the other remains closed. This allows them to maintain vigilance and be on the lookout for potential predators or other threats.

In deep sleep, birds tend to close both eyes fully. This ensures that they can rest undisturbed and conserve their energy. However, it’s important to note that not all bird species exhibit the same sleep behavior.

Which Birds Close Their Eyes Fully When Sleeping?

Most birds close their eyes completely when they enter deep sleep. This includes familiar birds like sparrows, robins, and pigeons. Closing their eyes helps these birds shut out the external stimuli and achieve a more restful sleep.

It also helps protect their eyes from dust, debris, and potential injuries.

For example, the common house sparrow, found in many urban areas, is known to close its eyes entirely when it sleeps. This behavior allows the sparrow to relax and recharge, ready for another day of foraging and socializing.

Birds That Can Sleep With Eyes Half Open

However, there are exceptions to the rule. Some bird species have the ability to sleep with their eyes half open. This unique adaptation allows them to maintain partial awareness of their surroundings while still getting some rest.

Birds like ducks, geese, and some species of owls can sleep with their eyes partially open, using a specialized muscle called the “pecten.” This muscle helps hold the eyelids in a semi-closed position, providing a level of protection and vigilance even during sleep.

So, the next time you observe a bird perched on a branch, take a closer look at its eyes. You might just catch a glimpse of whether it’s sleeping with its eyes shut tight, or with a watchful gaze.

If you want to learn more about the sleep patterns of birds, you can visit the Audubon Society or the National Center for Biotechnology Information for additional resources.

Why Do Birds Close Their Eyes When Sleeping?

Have you ever wondered why birds close their eyes when they sleep? It turns out, there are several reasons behind this behavior.

Protection from Predators and Threats

One of the primary reasons birds close their eyes when sleeping is for protection. Closing their eyes helps birds camouflage themselves and avoid drawing attention from predators. By keeping their eyes closed, they reduce the chances of being spotted and increase their chances of survival.

This instinctive behavior has been observed in various bird species, from small songbirds to large birds of prey.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, closing their eyes also helps birds conserve energy and reduce brain activity during sleep, allowing them to rest more efficiently.

Conservation of Energy

Another reason birds close their eyes when sleeping is to conserve energy. Birds have a high metabolic rate and need to rest and recharge their energy levels. By closing their eyes, they can minimize external stimuli and focus on conserving energy.

This energy-saving mechanism allows them to maintain their body temperature and prepare for the activities of the following day.

According to a study published in the journal “Animal Behaviour,” birds with closed eyes showed a significant decrease in brain activity compared to birds with open eyes during sleep. This suggests that closing their eyes may help birds enter a deeper sleep state, allowing for better rest and rejuvenation.

Resting Eye Muscles

Closing their eyes while sleeping also provides birds with an opportunity to rest their eye muscles. Just like humans, birds have muscles that control their eyelids. Keeping their eyes closed allows these muscles to relax and recover, reducing strain and fatigue.

According to the National Audubon Society, birds have a nictitating membrane, also known as a “third eyelid,” which is a thin, translucent membrane that covers the eye while still allowing birds to see. This membrane also helps keep the eye moist and protected.

Closing their eyes during sleep allows the nictitating membrane to function properly and maintain the health of the eyes.

Exceptions: Birds That Can Sleep With Eyes Open

While most birds close their eyes when they sleep, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Some species of birds have evolved the ability to keep their eyes open while they sleep. Let’s take a closer look at three of these fascinating exceptions:


One of the most well-known birds that can sleep with their eyes open are ducks. Ducks have a unique adaptation called “unihemispheric slow-wave sleep,” which allows them to rest one half of their brain while the other half remains awake and alert.

This adaptation ensures that ducks can stay vigilant for any potential dangers even while they are asleep. So, next time you see a duck floating serenely on a pond, remember that they may not be as asleep as they appear!


Another bird that can sleep with their eyes open is the ostrich. Ostriches are the largest birds in the world and have fascinating sleeping habits. They have the ability to tuck their heads under their wings and enter a state of sleep while still keeping their eyes open.

This allows them to remain aware of their surroundings and quickly respond to any potential threats. It’s truly amazing to think about how these large birds can sleep so effortlessly!

Some Other Waterbirds

In addition to ducks, there are other waterbirds that can sleep with their eyes open. This includes species like swans, geese, and seagulls. These birds have adapted to their watery habitats and have developed the ability to sleep with one eye open, ensuring they can stay safe even while resting.

It’s quite a sight to see a group of swans floating peacefully on a lake, with their eyes wide open!

It’s important to note that while these birds can sleep with their eyes open, they still need proper rest just like any other bird. Their unique sleeping adaptations allow them to remain vigilant while still getting the rest they need.

So, the next time you see a bird with its eyes open, remember that it may be taking a well-deserved nap while keeping a watchful eye on its surroundings!

Do Bird Eyes Move During Sleep?

Birds, like most animals, do experience eye movements during sleep. These eye movements are closely associated with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is the stage of sleep characterized by vivid dreaming.

During REM sleep, birds exhibit rapid and random movements of their eyes behind closed eyelids. This phenomenon has been observed in various bird species, including songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl.

REM Sleep Eye Movements

REM sleep eye movements in birds are similar to those observed in mammals, including humans. They are believed to be associated with the processing and consolidation of information and experiences during sleep.

The rapid eye movements may correspond to the bird’s visual dream imagery, similar to how humans experience visual dreams during REM sleep. These eye movements suggest that birds may also have complex dream experiences while they sleep.

Interestingly, birds that rely heavily on visual hunting or foraging behaviors, such as raptors, may exhibit more pronounced eye movements during REM sleep. This could be attributed to the importance of visual processing and memory consolidation for these species.

Keeping Balance

In addition to REM sleep eye movements, birds also have a unique adaptation that allows them to maintain balance while sleeping. Unlike mammals, which often sleep in a lying down or curled-up position, birds typically sleep while perched on a branch or other elevated surface.

To prevent themselves from falling during sleep, birds have a specialized tendon system in their legs that automatically engages when they relax their leg muscles. This mechanism, known as “leg-locking,” allows birds to maintain their grip even when they are in a deep sleep.

Bird Sleeping Habits By Species


Songbirds, also known as passerines, have a variety of sleeping habits. While some songbirds close their eyes when they sleep, others do not. Some species, like the American Robin, sleep with their eyes partially closed, while others, like the Eastern Bluebird, keep their eyes wide open.

This variation in sleeping habits might be due to the different environments and predators they encounter.

According to a study conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, songbirds that sleep with their eyes open may have a better ability to detect potential threats while they rest. Their brains are wired to stay alert even during sleep, allowing them to quickly respond to any danger that may arise.

Birds of Prey

Birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, have a unique sleeping habit. They sleep while perched on a branch or ledge, and they do not close their eyes completely. Instead, they keep their eyes partially open, allowing them to stay vigilant and ready to take flight if necessary.

This behavior is essential for their survival, as birds of prey rely on their sharp vision to spot prey or potential threats. By keeping their eyes open, they can quickly respond to any movement around them and maintain their position as apex predators in their respective habitats.


Parrots, known for their intelligence and vibrant plumage, have different sleeping patterns compared to other bird species. Unlike songbirds or birds of prey, parrots sleep by tucking their heads under their wings, closing their eyes completely.

This behavior is believed to provide them with a sense of security and comfort while they rest. Parrots are highly social creatures, and sleeping with their eyes closed helps them relax and feel safe in their surroundings.

Pigeons and Doves

Pigeons and doves, members of the Columbidae family, have a fascinating sleeping habit. Unlike many other bird species, they have the ability to sleep with one eye open and one eye closed, a behavior known as unilateral eye closure.

This unique sleeping pattern allows pigeons and doves to stay alert to potential threats while they rest. By keeping one eye open, they can quickly respond to any danger or movement around them, ensuring their safety in urban environments or while roosting in trees.

For more information about bird sleeping habits and behaviors, you can visit the Audubon Society or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology websites.


As we’ve explored, most bird species do fully close their eyes when sleeping, for a variety of important reasons like protecting themselves from threats and conserving energy. However, some birds like ducks and ostriches can remarkably sleep with one eye open to stay vigilant for predators.

Understanding bird sleeping habits not only sheds light on their physiology, but also gives us a glimpse into the lives of our feathered friends. Next time you see a sleeping bird, take a moment to appreciate the intricate biological programming that governs its rest.

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