Look up nocturnal in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Owls are well known for being nocturnal, but some owls are active during the day.
Nocturnality is an animal behavior characterized by being active during the night and sleeping during the day. The common adjective is "nocturnal", versus diurnal meaning the opposite.
Nocturnal creatures generally have highly developed senses of hearing, smell, and specially adapted eyesight. Such traits can help animals such as the Helicoverpa zea moths avoid predators. Some animals, such as cats and ferrets, have eyes that can adapt to both low-level and bright day levels of illumination (see metaturnal). Others, such as bushbabies and (some) bats, can function only at night. Many nocturnal creatures including tarsiers and some owls have large eyes in comparison with their body size to compensate for the lower light levels at night. More specifically, they have been found to have a larger cornea relative to their eye size than diurnal creatures to increase their visual sensitivity: in the low-light conditions. Nocturnality helps wasps, such as Apoica flavissima, avoid hunting in intense sunlight.
The Kiwi is a family of nocturnal birds endemic to New Zealand.
While it is difficult to say which came first, nocturnality or diurnality, there is a leading hypothesis out in the evolutionary biology community. Known as the "bottleneck theory", it postulates that millions of years ago in the Mesozoic era, many ancestors of modern-day mammals evolved nocturnal characteristics in order to avoid contact with the numerous diurnal predators. A recent study attempts to answer the question as to why so many modern day mammals retain these nocturnal characteristics even though they are not active at night. The leading answer is that the high visual acuity that comes with diurnal characteristics isn't needed anymore due to the evolution of compensatory sensory systems, such as a heightened sense of smell and more astute auditory systems. In a recent study, recently extinct elephant birds and modern day nocturnal kiwi bird skulls were examined to recreate their likely brain and skull formation. They indicated that olfactory bulbs were much larger in comparison to their optic lobes, indicating they both have a common ancestor who evolved to function as a nocturnal species, decreasing their eyesight in favor of a better sense of smell. The anomaly to this theory were anthropoids, who appeared to have the most divergence from nocturnality than all organisms examined. While most mammals didn't exhibit the morphological characteristics expected of a nocturnal creature, reptiles and birds fit in perfectly. A larger cornea and pupil correlated well with whether these two classes of organisms were nocturnal or not.