Do Birds Sleep While Flying [The Real How & Why]

Do Birds Sleep While Flying

Recently, I learned something kind of interesting, about birds. They have an ability that we do not have. They can be asleep and awake at the same time! I’m going to help you learn how that can be possible. So, do birds sleep while flying? You’re about to learn that and why below.

Two Brains

Before we learn about bird sleep, we have to learn one thing about brains. In both birds and humans, the brain is divided into the left and right sides. These are basically two brains with different jobs. The left brain controls the right half of the body, and the right brain controls the left half of the body.

Why? Nobody knows. Anyway, they have some ways to communicate with each other. In humans, the bundle of nerves that connects the two brains is called the corpus callosum.

In human sleep, both brains fall asleep at the same time. We close our eyes and lie down. It takes more disturbance to get our attention, and it takes us longer to respond.

In every bird, they are able to sleep with just half their brain while the other half stays awake and alert! Imagine if you were able to do this. You could be in class with one eye closed, half-sleeping, but ready to respond to a teacher’s question.

You no longer have to choose between getting enough sleep or seeing a late-night movie. For birds, this has two HUGE benefits.

  1. Birds can keep an eye out for predators while resting. They close one eye, and the other half of the brain goes to sleep. They can stay still and rest, but still, see a predator coming and get out of the way. Obviously, any bird that can avoid predators will have an advantage over birds that cannot.
  2. Birds will use one-sided sleep if they don’t feel safe, and full sleep if they know there are no predators around. Ducks have a cool behavior. If there’s a row of ducks, the outer ducks will keep their outer eye open but sleep the inside eye. The middle ducks do full sleep, knowing there’s an eye out for predators.
  3. Birds can sleep while migrating. They don’t have to find a place to sleep every
    night because they can nap while flying. Scientists are pretty sure birds can do this because birds
    can fly thousands of miles without stopping for a nap, but it’s never been directly observed.

[Related Article: Where Do Birds Go When It Storms]

Differences In Bird Brains

Birds have at least three differences in their brains that help them do this. They have no corpus callosum connecting the two halves of their brain. That way activity in one half of their brain doesn’t wake up the other half of the brain. It’s like having good sound insulation between two rooms, so one side can listen to music without disturbing someone in the other room.

They also have different optic nerves. In humans, both eyes can send information to both halves of the brain.,In birds, there’s complete separation, so information from one eye will not wake up the sleeping half of the brain.

There’s also some way that birds can have different amounts of sleep signaling in both halves of their brain. No one knows exactly how this works.

Can you do this? Short answer: yes! Humans have the ability to sleep the right half of their brain while the left half is more alert. You have definitely experienced this. Think back to your last vacation. You arrive at your hotel or your friend’s couch and settle down to sleep. But that first night is never very restful, is it?

You might have trouble getting to sleep, you might wake up in the middle of the night and you feel kind of groggy the next day. That’s because the left half of your brain spent less time sleeping and more time listening and sensing for danger. This effect usually goes away on the second day.

Can you use one-sided sleep in a more useful way, or sleep just the right half of your brain? Probably not. Sorry. But next time you stagger towards breakfast, sleepy and groggy, you can be amazed at your brain’s attempt to copy birds in one-sided sleep.


Now you know if birds sleep while flying and how. So, if your like me after I first learned this, every bird you see flying you wonder to yourself if they’re sleeping or awake.

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