Roosting 101

Roosting 101

Photo by Angie Luzander
Written by Lauren Belcher

Roosting is a bird’s way of resting. The wading birds typically roosting within the Rookery spend most of their time knee-deep in water looking for food in the Intracoastal Waterway. During high and low peak tides, the birds’ food source is unavailable and they are forced to move. The location they move to is called a roost.

The majority of roosting is spent sleeping. When wading birds roost, they become very still and often stand on one leg. They close their eyes and sometimes tuck their heads under their wings. Most wading species roost in large flocks that can reach up to one thousand birds. Roosting together helps reduce the risk of predators taking advantage of the roosting period. At the Rookery, predation is less of an issue due to the hundreds of crocodilians throughout the zoo which consume the roosting birds’ main predators: raccoons, possums and snakes. Some get so comfortable here that they will roost within arm’s reach, providing a wonderful opportunity for nature photographers.

Currently the primary roosters out in the Rookery are: Black-crowned (Nycticorax nycticorax) and Yellow-crowned (Nyctanassa violacea) night herons during the day and mostly White ibis (Eudocimus albus) at night. None of these species nest at the Zoo though; for that, ibis travel south to mangrove-populated areas like the Everglades, while night herons head up North.

Other species that are observed roosting in February are Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) and Great Egrets (Casmerodius albus).