The Bird Tree

Where do all the birds go at night? Where do they sleep? Questions that children often ask but many adults wouldn’t be able to answer. Read on to see what is happening where I live.

I am inviting you to learn about the "bird tree" and the life it supports. What I am calling the "bird tree" is a sprawling banyan in my neighborhood that is the only bird "hotspot", or roost, for a multitude of birds in my area. I have known about this tree for many years and have occasionally taken photographs of it, but never explored the matter further. In a way, this little project has been in the works for a number of years and is now slowly and organically coming together.

One Giant Banyan

This is it. This magnificent banyan tree sits at the edge of a pond on one of the golf courses in my neighborhood. On the land side, the tree is directly adjacent to busy bocce ball courts that get plenty of human traffic and loud parties. The other side of the tree hangs over the pond, nicely protected from predator interference.

So, to answer the question where the birds go at night: To this tree! All the wading birds in my neighborhood go there.

Happy Hour Gathering

What happens is that by end of the day, the wading birds come in from their respective "jobs sites" and start to gather on the shore of the pond. They have a little congregation before bedtime, not unlike a happy hour gathering. Talking, squawking, maybe telling each other about their days. As the sun draws closer to setting, they fly up to the tree to secure a spot for the night.

The tree hosts a large variety of wading birds, from the ubiquitous white ibis, egrets, various species of heron, cormorants and anhingas, to large brown pelicans. It is the analog of a large housing development, densely populated with mixed ethnicities. It is a tree of life. However, it seems to be limited to wading birds since I have never seen eagles, ospreys, blue jays, etc. spending the night in it.

Facebook of the tree denizen - Pelicans, Ibis, Black Crowned Night Heron, Cormorant, Ibis and Egret, Anhinga, Squabbling Ibis, Juvenile Tri-Colored Heron, Little Blue Heron

My neighborhood spreads over 1,600 acres with a guesstimated 20,000 trees, and many ponds. Being a heavily managed residential area with several golf courses, it is a far cry from the natural habitat of these birds, but the ponds and trees at least allow the birds to exist. The bird population has been dwindling dramatically over the 20 years that I have been able to observe them. Unfortunately, this is the situation everywhere.

Prime Location

Over the course of the years, I have visited this tree many times, often with a camera, trying to get close-up pictures of these feathery creatures. But trying to get close to birds presents its challenges. Approaching from behind (where the birds are used to seeing humans), the many branches of the tree obstruct a clear view. I have climbed a few feet up the tree, but this scared the birds and they all took off. Lastly, I tried from underneath, wading out from the water’s edge, hoping that this would provide a better angle. These attempts stopped after I received a load of “guano” on my head one day. It hadn’t rendered any decent shots anyway.

Population Density

Eventually, friendly neighbors on the other side of the pond allowed access to their backyard so I could get a better view of the tree. From there, a telephoto is enough to peek into the bird city. I envy these neighbors for being able to see this bird spectacle every day. Very blessed!

Early Morning

While evenings at the bird tree are very lively, the mornings are equally exciting. Arriving before daylight, you can see all these white dots spread out over the tree, like some whimsical fabric. It is very quiet and peaceful.

Of course, this all changes when the sun starts to come up.

Like commuters, each morning, the birds spread out to different areas on the golf course to start foraging for food. They leave the roost at sunrise, not all at the same time, but in batches, it seems, triggered by the sun's rays hitting the roost. The birds resting on the shadier side leave later. Some birds also seem to sleep in a little, or maybe they are taking the day off from work?

On their way to work

The birds are now spread over the golf course ponds where they stalk their prey with intense focus. They hunt and eat all day, and then return at night to rest. Most birds are territorial, meaning they will go to work at the same pond each day. At the pond behind my house, I see the same egret, the same heron, and the same anhinga every day. They become like old friends. They also seem to know me. Same thing with their resting places at night. Egrets gather on certain branches, anhingas prefer top spots, etc. I spotted a little green heron who has his designated spot at the edge of the tree, off the beaten path. He sits there every night, all by himself.

At Work - Egret , Little Blue Heron, Tri-Colored Herons
This is my spot.

Having such a bird hotspot in the area is a true jewel but not many people even know about it. I invite you to come out before sunset, or early morning, and see this spectacle for yourself. No expensive bird watching gear is needed, just your two eyes and ears. It will once again connect you with nature, and hopefully make you aware that we need to do everything in our power to protect these wonderful creatures and their endangered habitat. This tree is one of their last sanctuaries. Don't let anyone ever cut it down!

At Night

Coming home. Consider this the bonus relaxation video. 3:30 minutes of birds returning to the roost.


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All images by Hilda Champion, video soundtracks by Claude Debussy and a multitude of excited birds.

Created By
Hilda Champion


All images by Hilda Champion unless noted otherwise.