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Rookery of the Year

November 10, 2009

At the end of Corporate Drive in Fort Lauderdale is a tall, gleaming, mirror-coated building that reflects the three hundred-plus, tree-shaded parking spaces to the north, south and west and a vestigial nature preserve to the east. This last stand of cypress is an oasis of green in an otherwise paved-over landscape.

On a previous daytime visit to the preserve I watched several birds feeding in the shallow, cattail-lined pond in the middle of the cypress head. What sparked my curiosity was a lone Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) in the center of the pond, coated with the telltale white washing of a bird roost. The tree was covered in poop.

I returned the next week an hour after dusk and as I approached the boardwalk overlooking the pond I heard a cacophony of squawks, shrieks and cries with the intermittent plop of bird droppings splashing down in the pond. I paused – not wanting to disturb what I assumed should be a tranquil resting spot for the birds. The racket continued as did I. As the roost came in to view I understood the cause of the discord. The cypress was loaded with Great Egrets (Ardea alba), Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula), Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) and White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) all jockeying for the best spot. Tree islands are virtually predator proof and this tree in the middle of the pond was the choicest of spots with more than one hundred birds riding out the night in it.

The tallest birds pictured are the Great Egrets. The pink beak and legged birds are the White Ibis. The hunched over birds with bad posture and yellow beaks are Cattle Egret and the black billed, medium-sized birds are Snowy Egrets.

There is safety in numbers but for birds that don’t top the tree they may suffer the indignity of being pooped upon. At least the poop matches the plumage – hardly a coincidence!

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