Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Partners in the Sky

Track Black-Crowned Night Herons

Every spring, about 100 black-crowned night herons show up at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo to breed. Although the night herons have been nesting here since before the National Zoo was established (check out a video about it), SCBI scientists do not know where these birds spend the winter. Until now!

Real-time tracking is not yet live, but will be soon! When it is, the maps will look like this:

Soon, you'll be able to track black-crowned night herons online and in an “Animal Trax” module, which will beintegrated into the Zoo’s app in early 2014. 

Last August, SCBI scientists began a pilot study to unravel this mystery. Three adult night herons from the rookery at the National Zoo were fitted with satellite transmitters and released. Where did they go?

  • The first heron left the breeding site on September 22, 2013. Over the next six days, it made its way to Fort Meyers, Florida—a distance of 870 miles. There it’s stayed for the last month.
  • The second heron left the breeding site on August 15, 2013, but stayed in the D.C. area for another two months. On October 16, it left D.C. and flew 60 miles. At the moment it’s on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
  • The third heron left the breeding site on August 13, 2013, but has stayed in the D.C. area since then. It continues to stay in the vicinity of the Georgetown waterfront and we wait to see what’s in store for this bird.

Next spring, these birds will return to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. There, visitors will again be able to witness, first-hand, their breeding activities—do they find a mate? Do their eggs successfully hatch and fledge? Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the current locations of these birds are staging areas or final destinations. One thing is certain, we know more now than we did two months ago about where the night herons go when they’re not breeding at the National Zoo.

Tune in for the next chapter in the lives of these birds.