Things That Go Bump In The Night: Identifying Animal Noises At Night

What’s more fascinating in your backyard than the things you can’t see? There are so many strange animal sounds 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.

Is it an odd rolling sound emerging from your attic? Or a high pitched squeal under your deck? I’m sure you want to know what’s up with these nocturnal animals. Do you want to know what the wild animal noises are in and around your house? Let’s get started… from the ground up!

Which Night Noises Are Made By Insects?

Identifying nocturnal animal sounds can be challenging – especially when it’s an insect! 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. If you hear scratching or louder thumping noises, it’s probably not an insect. Insects produce high pitched singing sounds, whining noises, or grinding sounds similar to woodworking.

What animal makes a chirping noise at night?

Katydids and crickets are excellent examples of nighttime noise-making insects. These backyard wildlife are perfectly quiet during the daytime, but at night: it’s a different story. These insects, which belong to the same Order (Orthoptera) make noises in similar ways: by rubbing their wings together. These insects usually make their high pitched chirping noise at night to attract mates during breeding season.

They may also make these high pitched noises to warn off predators. These noises are fairly loud. If they’re in your house, they can even keep you up until the early morning. I had a cricket in my garage once and it was deafening every time I went into my car for days.

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. These weird noises are definitely memorable!

 

Another set of insects also makes nighttime noises: wood-boring insects. Story time:

What animal makes grinding or clicking sounds at night?

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. It was a mix of grinding and clicking noises. It didn’t sound like scratching sounds – but I wasn’t really sure what kind of animal was making it.

Since it was totally dark outside, 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:

What Kind Of Night Noises Do Amphibians and Reptiles Make?

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 only peep during mating season. Spring peepers live primarily in forests near temporary wetlands. Here’s their song:

Frog vocalizations sound wild, but don’t worry: they can’t hurt you. Remember, the wetlands where frogs live are their native shelter. They’re safe from predators as they sing the song of their people.

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.

What Sounds Do Owls Make At Night?

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.

What Sounds Do Mammals Make At Night?

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!

Foxes In The Woods At Night

People commonly report nighttime noises that sound like “screaming” in the woods. These “screams” are often just foxes going about their evenings! Foxes are “crepuscular” animals, meaning that they’re active around dusk and dawn. Here’s a great example of a UK fox vocalizing with a friend on camera:

Coyote Yips and Yowls

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:

Wild Animals: Bobcat Vocalizations

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.

It’s Coming From Inside The House

Light pitter patter on the roof? Noises in wall cavities? Claws digging at the edges of your mind while you’re trying to sleep? If you hear animal movements inside your house, you might be in for an adventure. Animal sounds in your house usually means squirrels or mice. Squirrels commonly produce scurrying, digging, or other noises in your attic or walls. Mice or rats can do the same.

Left alone, they may chew wooden baseboards or create larger holes in your home. These small animals can cause a lot of trouble. But don’t worry – you can work with a wildlife expert to exclude the creatures from your home, often without harming them. You’ll need to find out where they’re coming in, then block off those entrances. Some folks may choose to wait until baby-rearing season is over.

And…Action!

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?

Share your favorite night sounds videos and tag us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter!

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12 Responses to “Things That Go Bump In The Night: Identifying Animal Noises At Night”

  1. This website was so interesting, but just not helping me! I was woken up tonight by a familiar noise, just X100! I think it’s too early for mating (I hope that wasn’t what mating sounds like…oh god) it honestly sounded like the animal was screeching/screaming while being torn apart and eaten. I know, circle of life, survival of the fittest, but listening to it in bed was AWFUL

    Reply
  2. Pam Heaphy

    Great article! I’m still puzzled by a sound I used to hear at night when I lived in woods near an eastern coast in Massachusetts. I always thought it was whirring of wings of a bird landing, but now I’m not sure.

    Reply
  3. Kam Sz

    Hi, I got a sound sample of some kind of wildlife animal (night one probably) which I am unable to identify. Would you be able to help to establish what is it, please ?

    Reply
  4. Stacy Stevens

    Thank you for the well put together article and education. This gave me goosebumps! Thrilling to listen to all the sounds.

    Reply
  5. So about every time I try to go to bed my dog starts to bark so me and my cousin went out side to check one day we climbed a tree and my flashlight battery died so I went in side to get new batteries when I got back he said that the animal that we were looking for was crunching leaves internationally so we looked behind an old trailer didn’t see anything but we did see where it mad a hole in it we still didn’t see anything so I decided to look online when he got home do you know that this could be??

    Reply
  6. Roger & Cyndy

    Thanks! you helped us identify the Ohio frog that was making noises in the bushes!

    Reply
  7. Janan Loomis

    Can find out what creature was making a VERY ZLOUD call at night. Sounded a cross between an insect and a frog. Heard responding calls in far distance. It’s the loudest call I’ve ever heard. Crazy but it sounded like a UFO saucer landing, as depicted in sci-fi movies. Research has gotten me nowhere. I’m in Northeast Pennsylvania. I can’t express how loud it was.

    Reply
  8. I am absolutely convinced that something about our mammalian hz brain frequency we can actually interact with our minds with the wilderness in south west Ohio thank you for the info

    Reply
    • I hear a strange sound like something mimicking a fan at night and I don’t know why

      Reply
  9. Jessica Gordon

    Thank you for this article. I was able to determine that it was a Eastern Screech Owl calling out at 3am.

    Reply

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