This place–the condo complex my parents live in is built on swampland. They’re not alone. Much of South Florida’s inhabited land was once the province of birds, game and gators.
In many cases, civilization has killed the wildlife off or forced it to move away. In other cases, people and animals live together in harmony. That’s what this entry is all about: cohabitation between the species.
My folks moved in nine years ago. Back then they noticed an amazing tree. By day, it was bare… in fact, much of it looked dead with no leaves or hint of green. In the twilight of early evening it came alive as egrets flew in and landed. Overnight the birds slept on the tree.
As far as I can tell, what we have here is called a rookery.
rook-er-y ( P ) Pronunciation Key (rk-r)
n. pl. rook-er-ies
A breeding place of gregarious birds, as of herons, penguins, etc.
The tree sits at the edge of a small, man made lake. This part of Palm Beach County is crawling with little lakes, dredged to afford water views and raise housing prices for the developers. This lake, maybe more of a pond, isn’t special in any way I can see… but it is to egrets. They chose it for their home.
It’s not out in the wild nor removed from civilization. The tree is about as close as it can be to the clubhouse for this complex of 600 units. There is foot and car traffic every day. The egrets don’t care.
They fill this tree 365 days a year and every morning they all fly away to do whatever it is egrets do. They return, flying in groups of 5 to 10, swooping down and heading upwind before finding their branch just before sunset. It’s tough to believe that the landing patterns at LAX or JFK are any more precise or coordinated.
They sleep in close proximity. Egrets are not deep sleepers. From time to time one will move or adjust his position. That motion will affect other nearby birds, and before long a section of the tree’s population will have their wings up for stability or even take a very brief flight. A sound sleeper would soon be in the lake.
In the quiet of the evening looking across the lake at the motionless birds you sometimes hear a staccato sound. It’s bird poop, hitting the water.
Last year, someone thought it would be a good idea to have a contest. Count the birds and win a prize. A photo was taken, setting the benchmark, and everyone took a guess. There are a little more than 300 birds in the tree. My mom’s guess was closest. She won a stuffed bird (a toy stuffed bird – not something that had visited a taxidermist).
Earlier today, when I went to take my daylight ’empty nest’ photo, a few people sat on a bench, looking out at the lake. This evening, getting the return shot, there were more people and what looked like twin toddlers. I’m sure their grandparents were more excited than they were and that some day they’ll be quizzed to see if they remember the tree with all the birds.
When I returned tonight I had the birds to myself. It is an amazing sight.
From the distance, the tree looks like it’s lit by small incandescent bulbs. It’s only as you get closer that you begin to see the individual birds. Even then, they don’t really look like birds. Their heads and beaks are tucked down in their feathers, probably to preserve heat and energy in the cool of the evening. For the most part it’s a still life.
I’ve never seen anything like it and probably never will anywhere else. Not that they had anything to do with it, but the birds are a matter of pride for the condo dwellers.
Nearly every place has something special and out of the ordinary that only the locals know about. If only I knew the right questions to ask.