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Why do roosters sleep with their eyes open?

Roosters are known for their loud crowing early in the morning, which serves to wake up humans and animals on farms. But have you ever wondered how roosters themselves wake up so early if they sleep at night just like us? It turns out, roosters actually sleep with their eyes open!

Do roosters really sleep with eyes open?

Yes, it’s true that roosters sleep with their eyes partially open. Their eyes are not completely wide open, but their eyelids are only partially closed while sleeping. This unusual sleep habit is due to the structure and placement of a rooster’s eyes.

Roosters, like many birds, have eyes located on the sides of their heads. This gives them a very wide field of view spanning almost 360 degrees around them. It allows roosters to easily scan for food or look out for predators even while their head is stationary.

Having laterally placed eyes means that roosters cannot move their eyes a lot. Their eyes are fixed in place by sturdy bones surrounding the eyeball. This makes it physically difficult for roosters to close their eyes fully.

Roosters compensate by closing their eyelids just halfway while sleeping. So their eyes remain open to a slit even as they sleep at night.

Why did roosters evolve to sleep this way?

Sleeping with eyes open provided an evolutionary advantage to ancestral roosters and junglefowl birds.

Being able to maintain visual awareness even while resting meant roosters could still watch out for predators nearby. If a predator approached them at night, they could wake up and run away or fight back.

Having partially open eyes also meant roosters could visually scan their surroundings as soon as they woke up. This helped them get on their feet quickly to forage for food at dawn.

So the ability to sleep with eyes open likely helped ancestral roosters survive better and pass on this trait to future generations.

How do roosters sleep with eyes open?

Roosters have special adaptations that allow them to sleep with partially open eyes:

  • Thick eyelids: Roosters have thick eyelids with extra muscles that allow partial closure over the eye.
  • Hardy eye surface: Their eye surface is hardy enough to not dry out when exposed during sleep.
  • Nictitating membrane: They have a “third eyelid” or nictitating membrane that moves sideways to moisten and protect the eye.

Together, these specializations allow roosters to comfortably sleep with eyes open and wake up refreshed.

When do roosters sleep?

Roosters tend to be most active during the day. They have a circadian rhythm just like humans that dictates their sleep-wake cycle:

  • Daytime: Roosters are awake, busy with eating, mating, establishing dominance, and patrolling territory.
  • Nighttime: Roosters sleep at night while sitting upright on perches. Their eyes stay open to a slit during this time.
  • Before dawn: About an hour before sunrise, their circadian clocks trigger them to fully wake up and start crowing.

So roosters obtaining 7-9 hours of partial eyelid sleep at night, which lets them function optimally during the day.

Do hens also sleep with eyes open?

Yes, hens also commonly sleep with their eyes partially open just like roosters. As birds, hens also have eyes placed laterally on either side of their skulls.

Hens evolved the same adaptations as roosters that allow them to protectively sleep with open eyes. Their thick eyelids, hardy eye surface, and nictitating membranes permit hens to sleep with partially closed eyes.

This allowed ancestral junglefowl hens to stay vigilant of dangers at night while incubating eggs or sheltering chicks. Thus, the open-eyed sleeping trait was preserved in modern chicken hens as well.

Do other birds sleep with eyes open?

Many other birds also exhibit partial or full eye opening during sleep. Birds that are known to sleep with eyes open include:

Birds Degree of Eye Opening
Ducks Partially open
Geese Partially open
Pigeons Fully open
Seagulls Fully open

Many waterfowl and perching birds retain partial eye opening during sleep. In fact, birds that sleep with fully closed eyes are the exception rather than the norm in the avian world.

Why don’t all birds sleep with closed eyes?

Here are some reasons why most birds tend to sleep with open eyes rather than closed:

  • Eyes located on sides of heads makes complete closure physically difficult
  • They are vulnerable to nighttime predators, so need to stay alert
  • Circadian rhythms trigger waking up at dawn, so only need partial rest
  • Open eyes allow visual scanning for threats immediately upon waking

Birds that fully close their eyes during sleep are often either predators themselves (like owls) or live in relatively safer habitats like sparrows or finches.

Do roosters have health issues from poor sleep?

Surprisingly, roosters do not seem to suffer any ill health effects from continually sleeping with partially open eyes. Some reasons for this resilient ability include:

  • Hardy eye surface and membranes protect their exposed eyes at night
  • Their brains likely enter a deeper sleep state to compensate for lack of eye closure
  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep may occur equally divided across day and night
  • They sleep more deeply on cloudy days or inside shelters to catch up on rest

So roosters have adapted well over millions of years to thrive on partial open-eyed sleep at night. As long as their environments are calm enough, roosters remain perfectly healthy sleeping this way.

Do roosters ever close their eyes fully?

Yes, roosters are physically capable of fully closing their eyes. Though uncommon, roosters can briefly close their eyes in the following situations:

  • Blinking: Roosters blink just like humans do at times to moisten their eyes.
  • Resting: When sitting very still in a safe environment, they may close their eyes temporarily.
  • Grooming: While preening and cleaning their feathers, they may close eyes.
  • Sleeping: In very rare cases, a rooster may fully shut its eyes while dozing off briefly.

However, full eye closure is momentary. Roosters reopen their eyes partially soon after due to their innate vigilance and inability to keep eyes closed for long periods.

Do roosters ever suffer from eye injuries or illnesses?

Yes, roosters can sometimes develop eye problems, just like humans:

  • Scratches: Fighting with rivals can scratch their eye surface.
  • Infections: Bacterial, viral, or fungal eye infections can occur.
  • Parasites: Mites or lice may infest the area around their eyes.
  • Cataracts: Partial blindness from cataract formation is possible.
  • Night blindness: Vitamin A deficiency can cause impaired vision in dim light.

However, these issues are relatively rare in roosters kept in clean environments. With proper care and nutrition, most domestic roosters maintain excellent lifelong eye health.


In summary, roosters evolved the unusual ability to sleep with partially opened eyes to stay vigilant against nighttime threats. Their lateral eye placement, sturdy eyelids, and protective membranes allow roosters to sleep this way without any negative health effects.

While roosters can briefly close their eyes fully on occasion, keeping their eyes open to a slit at night is their normal restful state. Their open-eyed sleeping habit is a clever evolutionary adaptation that enabled ancestral roosters to survive and pass on their genes.