Bird colony

A bird colony is a large congregation of individuals of one or more species of bird that nest or roost in proximity at a particular location. Many kinds of birds are known to congregate in groups of varying size; a congregation of nesting birds is called a breeding colony. Colonial nesting birds include seabirds such as auks and albatrosses; wetland species such as herons; and a few passerines such as weaverbirds, certain blackbirds, and some swallows. A group of birds congregating for rest is called a communal roost. Evidence of colonial nesting has been found in non-neornithine birds (Enantiornithes), in sediments from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) of Romania.[1]

Variations on colonial nesting in birds

Approximately 13% of all bird species nest colonially.[2] Nesting colonies are very common among seabirds on cliffs and islands. Nearly 95% of seabirds are colonial,[3] leading to the usage, seabird colony, sometimes called a rookery. Many species of terns nest in colonies on the ground. Herons, egrets, storks, and other large waterfowl also nest communally in what are called heronries. Colony nesting may be an evolutionary response to a shortage of safe nesting sites and abundance or unpredictable food sources which are far away from the nest sites.[4] Colony-nesting birds often show synchrony in their breeding, meaning that chicks all hatch at once, with the implication that any predator coming along at that time would find more prey items than it could possibly eat.[2][5]

What exactly constitutes a colony is a matter of definition. Tufted puffins, for example, are pelagic birds that nest on the steep slopes and rocky crevices on coastal cliffs, often on islands. Each pair excavates its own burrow. A congregation of puffin burrows on a marine island is considered a colony.[6][7][8] Sand martins (called bank swallows in North America) are seldom, if ever, observed to nest in solitude; such a dependence on social nesting would term the bird a colonial nester.[9] A more extreme example of colonial nesting is found in the weaverbird family. The sociable weaver of southern Africa constructs massive, multi-family dwellings of twigs and dry grasses, with many entrances leading to different nesting chambers, accommodating as many as a hundred nesting pairs. These structures resemble haystacks hanging from trees, and have been likened to apartment buildings or beehives. [10]

Some seabird colonies host thousands of nesting pairs of various species. Triangle Island, for example, the largest seabird colony in British Columbia, Canada, is home to auks, gulls, cormorants, shorebirds, and other birds, as well as some marine mammals.[7] Many seabirds show remarkable site fidelity, returning to the same burrow, nest or site for many years, and they will defend that site from rivals with great vigour. This increases breeding success, provides a place for returning mates to reunite, and reduces the costs of prospecting for a new site. Young adults breeding for the first time usually return to their natal colony, and often nest very close to where they hatched. Individual nesting sites at seabird colonies can be widely spaced, as in an albatross colony, or densely packed like an auk colony. In most seabird colonies several different species will nest on the same colony, often exhibiting some niche separation. Seabirds can nest in trees (if any are available), on the ground (with or without nests), on cliffs, in burrows under the ground and in rocky crevices. Colony size is a major aspect of the social environment of colonial birds.

Some birds are known to nest in colonies when conditions are suitable, but not always. The white-winged dove of southwestern North America was known to nest in large colonies when foraging areas could support such numbers. In 1978, in Tamaulipas, Mexico, researchers counted 22 breeding colonies of white-winged doves with a collective population size of more than eight million birds. But as habitat was transformed through urbanization or agriculture, the doves apparently spread out into smaller, less long-lived colonies. Today, these doves are observed to nest singly and colonially in both urban and rural areas.[11][12]

The term colony has also been applied, perhaps misleadingly, to smaller nesting groups, such as forest-dwelling species that nest socially in a suitable stand of trees. The red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species of southeastern North America, is a social species that feeds and roosts in family groups, or clans. Clans nest and roost in clusters of tree cavities and use a cooperative breeding system.[13] Many parrot species are also extremely social. For example, the thick-billed parrot is another bird that nests and roosts communally; individuals of neighboring roosts has been observed to communicate with each other each morning to signal their readiness to form flocks for foraging.[14] However, these complex social structures in birds are a different sort of group behavior than what is normally considered colonial.

Ecological functions

The habit of nesting in groups is believed to provide better survival against predators in several ways. Many colonies are situated in locations that are naturally free of predators. In other cases, the presence of many birds means there are more individuals available for defense. Also, synchronized breeding leads to such an abundance of offspring as to satiate predators.

For seabirds, colonies on islands have an obvious advantage over mainland colonies when it comes to protection from terrestrial predators. Other situations can also be found where bird colonies avoid predation. A study of yellow-rumped caciques in Peru found that the birds, which build enclosed, pouch-like nests in colonies of up to one hundred active nests, situate themselves near wasp nests, which provide some protection from tree-dwelling predators such as monkeys.[15] When other birds came to rob the nests, the caciques would cooperatively defend the colony by mobbing the invader. Mobbing, clearly a group effort, is well-known behavior, not limited to colonial species; the more birds participating in the mobbing, the more effective it is at driving off the predator.[2] Therefore, it has been theorized that the larger number of individuals available for vigilance and defense makes the colony a safer place for the individual birds nesting there. More pairs of eyes and ears are available to raise the alarm and rise to the occasion.

Another suggestion is that colonies act as information centers and birds that have not found good foraging sites are able to follow others, who have fared better, to find food.[16] This makes sense for foragers because the food source is one that can be locally abundant. This hypothesis would explain why the lesser kestrel, which feeds on insects, breeds in colonies, while the related common kestrel, which feeds on larger prey, is not.[17]

Colonial behaviour has its costs as well. It has been noted that parasitism by haematozoa is higher in colonial birds and it has been suggested that blood parasites might have shaped adaptations such as larger organs in the immune system and life-history traits.[18] Other costs include brood parasitism and competition for food and territory.[3][4] Colony size is a factor in the ecological function of colony nesting. In a larger colony, increased competition for food can make it harder for parents to feed their chicks.[19]

The benefits and drawbacks for birds of nesting in groups seem to be highly situational. Although scientists have hypothesized about the advantages of group nesting in terms of enabling group defensive behavior, escape from predation by being surrounded by neighbors (called the selfish herd hypothesis), as well as escaping predators through sheer numbers, in reality, each of these functions evidently depends on a number of factors.[17] Clearly, there can be safety in numbers, but there is some doubt about whether it balances out against the tendency for conspicuous breeding colonies to attract predators, and some suggest that colonial breeding can actually make birds more vulnerable.[3] At a common tern colony in Minnesota, a study of spotted sandpipers observed to nest near the tern colony showed that the sandpipers that nested nearest the colony seemed to gain some protection from mammalian predators, but avian predators were apparently attracted to the colony and the sandpipers nesting there were actually more vulnerable.[20] In a study of a least tern colony in Connecticut, nocturnal avian predators in the form of black-crowned night herons and great horned owls were observed to repeatedly invade a colony, flying into the middle of the colony and meeting no resistance.[21]

For seabirds, the location of colonies on islands, which are inaccessible to terrestrial predators, is an obvious advantage. Islands where terrestrial predators have arrived in the form of rats, cats, foxes, etc., have devastated island seabird colonies. One well-studied case of this phenomenon has been the effect on common murre colonies on islands in Alaska, where foxes were introduced for fur farming.[22]

Human use

Eggs collected from a nesting bird colony on Laysan island. Early 1900s.

Colony-nesting birds have been used by humans as a source of food in the form of eggs and meat, down for bedding, feathers for quill pens, and guano for fertilizer. Over-exploitation can be devastating to a colony, or even to an entire population of a colonial species. For example, there was once a large seabird known as the great auk, which nested in colonies in the North Atlantic. Eggs and birds were used for a variety of purposes. Beginning in the 16th century, seafarers took the birds in especially great numbers to fill ships' larders, and by the mid-19th century, the great auk was extinct. Likewise, the short-tailed albatross of the North Pacific was heavily harvested at what seems to have been its primary colony on Torishima Island. Millions of birds were killed in less than two decades at the end of the 19th century. The species survives, though endangered. In North America, the extermination of the highly gregarious passenger pigeon has been well documented. The birds were hunted as if inexhaustible. Case in point: in 1871, in Wisconsin, an estimated 136 million pigeons nested in a dense congregation over a wide area; thousands of people were drawn to hunt the birds, shipping the squab to market by rail. The passenger pigeon is a famous example of a familiar bird going extinct in modern times.[23]

The use of seabird droppings as fertilizer, or guano, began with the Indigenous Peruvians, who collected it from sites along the coast of South America, such as the Chincha Islands. When, after the Spanish Conquest, the value of this fertilizer became known to the wider world, collection increased to the point where the supply nearly ran out, and other sources of guano had to be found.[24]

See also

Image gallery

Seabird colonies can be predominately a single species or a mix of species:

Muriwai gannets

Nesting Australasian gannets at the Muriwai colony in New Zealand

Thalasseus acuflavidus Colonie

A dense colony of Sandwich terns (Sterna sandvicensis)

King Penguins at Salisbury Plain (5719368307)

A colony of 200,000 king penguins on South Georgia island

Seabird colony

Seabird colony with great frigatebird, red-tailed tropicbird, red-footed booby, sooty tern and black noddy. Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Colonial nesting can be so close that multiple nests are interwoven:

Myiopsitta monachus -nests-8b

Monk parakeet nest colony

Another variation is to have closely grouped separate nests:

Cacicus haemorrhous -nest colony -river-8b

Red-rumped cacique nest colony by a river.


Nest holes of sand martins

Cliff swallow nests

Cliff swallow nests in Utah, USA

Purple martin colony

Artificial gourds provided for purple martins, USA

Heronries and rookeries are often in the top of a stand of trees:


Painted stork heronry in Gujarat, India

Rookery in Upwood - - 287091

Corvid rookery in Cambridgeshire, Great Britain


  1. ^ Dyke, G.; Vremir, M.; Kaiser, G. & Naish, D. (2012). "A drowned Mesozoic bird breeding colony from the Late Cretaceous of Transylvania". Die Naturwissenschaften. 99 (6): 435–42. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/s00114-012-0917-1. PMID 22575918.
  2. ^ a b c Gill, Frank B. (2007). Ornithology (Third ed.). New York: W.H. Freeman and Company. pp. 138–141. ISBN 978-0-7167-4983-7.
  3. ^ a b c Danchin, E.; Wagner, R.H. (1997). "The evolution of coloniality: the emergence of new perspectives" (PDF). Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 12 (2): 342–347. doi:10.1016/S0169-5347(97)01124-5. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  4. ^ a b Rolland, Cecile; Danchin, Etienne; de Fraipont, Michelle (1998). "The Evolution of Coloniality in Birds in Relation to Food, Habitat, Predation, and Life-History Traits: A Comparative Analysis" (PDF). The American Naturalist. 151 (6): 514–529. doi:10.1086/286137. PMID 18811373. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 June 2010.
  5. ^ Picman, J.; Pribil, S.; Isabelle, A. (2002). "Antipredation value of colonial nesting in Yellow-headed Blackbirds". Auk. 119 (2): 461–472. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2002)119[0461:AVOCNI]2.0.CO;2. JSTOR 4089892.
  6. ^ "Bird Web, Seattle Audubon Society: Tufted Puffin". Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  7. ^ a b "Triangle Island Seabird Research Station". Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  8. ^ Wehle, D. H. S. (1983). "The Food, Feeding, and Development of Young Tufted and Horned Puffins in Alaska" (PDF). Condor. 85 (4): 427–442. doi:10.2307/1367981. JSTOR 1367981. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  9. ^ Garrison, Barrett A. (1999). A. Poole (ed.). "Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia), The Birds of North America Online". Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  10. ^ "San Diego Zoo: Birds: Sociable Weavers". Archived from the original on 23 December 2010. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  11. ^ Sanchez Johnson, Yara; Hernandez, Fidel; Hewitt, David G.; Redeker, Eric J.; Waggerman, Gary L.; Ortega Melendez, Heriberto; Zamora Trevino, Hector V.; Roberson, Jay A. (2009). "Status of White-Winged Dove Nesting Colonies in Tamaulipas, Mexico". The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. 121 (2): 338–346. doi:10.1676/08-054.1.
  12. ^ Schwertner, T. W.; Mathewson, H. A.; Roberson, J. A.; Small, M.; Waggerman, G. L. (1999). A. Poole (ed.). "White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica), The Birds of North America Online". Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  13. ^ Jackson, Jerome A. (1994). A. Poole (ed.). "Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis), The Birds of North America Online". Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
  14. ^ Monterrubio-Rico, Tiberio C.; Cruz-Nieto, Javier; Enkerlin-Hoeflich, Ernesto; Venegas-Holguin, Diana; Tellez-Garcia, Lorena; Marin-Togo, Consuelo (2006). "Gergarious Nesting Behavior of Thick-Billed Parrots (Rhynochopsitta pachyrhyncha) in Aspen Stands". Wilson Journal of Ornithology. 118 (2): 237–243. doi:10.1676/05-039.1. JSTOR 20455863.
  15. ^ Robinson, Scott K. (1985). "Coloniality in the Yellow-Rumped Cacique as a Defense Against Nest Predators" (PDF). Auk. 102: 50–519. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
  16. ^ Ward, P.; Zahavi, A. (1973). "The importance of certain assemblages of birds as "information centers" for food finding". Ibis. 115 (4): 517–534. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1973.tb01990.x.
  17. ^ a b Ehrlich, Paul R.; Dobkin, David S.; Wheye, Darryl. "Coloniality". Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  18. ^ Tella, J.L. (2002). "The evolutionary transition to coloniality promotes higher blood parasitism in birds" (PDF). Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 15: 32–41. doi:10.1046/j.1420-9101.2002.00375.x.
  19. ^ Hunt, George L. Jr.; Eppley, Zoe A.; Schneider, David C. (1986). "Reproductive Performance of Seabirds: The Importance of Population and Colony Size" (PDF). Auk. 103: 306–317. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  20. ^ Alberico, Julie A.; Reed, J. Michael; Oring, Lewis W. (October – December 1991). "Nesting Near a Common Tern Colony Increases and Decreases Spotted Sandpiper Nest Predation" (PDF). Auk. 108 (4). Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  21. ^ Brunton, Diane H. (1997). "Impacts of Predators: Center Nests are Less Successful than Edge Nests in a Large Nesting Colony of Least Terns" (PDF). Condor. 99 (2): 372–380. doi:10.2307/1369943. JSTOR 1369943. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  22. ^ Ainley, David G.; Nettleship, David N.; Carter, Harry R.; Storey, Anne E. (2002). A. Poole (ed.). "Common Murre (Uria aalge), The Birds of North America Online". Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  23. ^ Ellis, Richard (2004). No Turning Back – The Life and Death of Animal Species. Harper Perennial. pp. 158–160, 173–174, 195–197. ISBN 978-0-06-055804-8.
  24. ^ "Guano". Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003. Microsoft Corporation. 1993–2002. 60210-442-1635445-74407.

External links

Admiralty Group

The Admiralty Group of islets consists of eight rocky outcrops within 2 km of the north of Lord Howe Island, from south to north:

Soldier’s Cap


South Island


Roach Island

Tenth of June

North Rock

Flat RockRoach Island is the largest, being about 15 ha in area, 800 m long and 86 m high, with a much-photographed 15-metre-tall tunnel at its northern end. The basalt lava flows are crossed by many dikes. The vegetation consists of grasses, sedges and a few bushes.These islets are noted for the nesting populations of seabirds in spring and summer in greater numbers than anywhere else on Lord Howe Island, mainly sooty terns, masked boobies and brown noddies.Boat trips take visitors to Roach Island for a bird colony experience.

Avery Island, Louisiana

Avery Island (historically French: Île Petite Anse) is a salt dome best known as the source of Tabasco sauce. Located in Iberia Parish, Louisiana, United States, it is approximately three miles (4.8 km) inland from Vermilion Bay, which in turn opens onto the Gulf of Mexico. A small human population lives on the island. The island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cape Chukotsky

Cape Chukotsky is located in the south-east of the Chukotka Peninsula, at the east entrance to the Providence Bay and the northern boundary of Gulf of Anadyr; it borders the Bering Sea and Bering Strait. This rocky cape hosts a bird colony with a population of one thousand northern fulmars, pelagic cormorants, black-legged kittiwakes, Urias, pigeon guillemots and horned puffins.The cape was discovered by the First Kamchatka Expedition on 8 August 1728. On that day, a boat of eight Chukchi men approached an expedition ship, which hinted Aleksei Chirikov to choose the name for the cape.

Cape Enniberg

Cape Enniberg is a cliff located on the Island of Viðoy. At 754 metres (2,474 ft) high, it is one of the highest promontories in the world.Enniberg is the northernmost point of the Faroe Islands. At the southern foot of the nearby 844-metre-high (2,769 ft) mountain, Villingadalsfjall, lies the town of Viðareiði. In summer, boat trips run to Cape Enniberg, which is also the site of an important bird colony.

Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge

Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge is 0.5 miles (0.80 km) offshore from Crescent City in northern California. This coastal rock covers approximately 14 acres (57,000 m2), and rises steeply 335 feet (102 m) above sea level. The refuge provides an important sanctuary for the Aleutian cackling goose and nesting seabirds.

Colony (biology)

In biology, a colony is composed of two or more conspecific individuals living in close association with, or connected to, one another. This association is usually for mutual benefit such as stronger defense or the ability to attack bigger prey. It is a cluster of identical cells (clones) on the surface of (or within) a solid medium, usually derived from a single parent cell, as in bacterial colony. In contrast, a solitary organism is one in which all individuals live independently and have all of the functions needed to survive and reproduce.

Colonies, in the context of development, may be composed of two or more unitary (or solitary) organisms or be modular organisms. Unitary organisms have determinate development (set life stages) from zygote to adult form and individuals or groups of individuals (colonies) are visually distinct. Modular organisms have indeterminate growth forms (life stages not set) through repeated iteration of genetically identical modules (or individuals), and it can be difficult to distinguish between the colony as a whole and the modules within. In the latter case, modules may have specific functions within the colony.

Some organisms are primarily independent and form facultative colonies in reply to environmental conditions while others must live in a colony to survive (obligate). For example, some carpenter bees will form colonies when a dominant hierarchy is formed between two or more nest foundresses (facultative colony), while corals are animals that are physically connected by living tissue (the coenosarc) that contains a shared gastrovascular cavity.


Craigleith (Scottish Gaelic: Creag Lìte) is a small island in the Firth of Forth off North Berwick in East Lothian, Scotland. Its name comes from the Scottish Gaelic Creag Lìte meaning "rock of Leith". It is 24 metres (79 feet) at its highest point.


A heronry, sometimes called a heron rookery, is a breeding ground for herons.


Heuwiese is an uninhabited German Baltic Sea island that lies about two kilometres south of Ummanz and west of Germany's largest island, Rügen.

It has a maximum extend of 900 metres (from northwest to southeast) and is about 40 hectares in area. The island, which is over 1 metre high is a bird reserve that lies within the West Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park.

The island is a typical salt grassland (Salzgrasland) of the West Pomeranian lagoon coastline and was formed from zones of sediment accretion that have gradually become exposed, known as windwatts. The resulting areas lie just a few centimetres about sea level (NN) and are flooded from time to time at irregular intervals.

The island received its name from its earlier use as cattle pasture. Since the mid-19th century it has also been known as a bird colony and was officially placed under protection in 1939 as a breeding site for coastal birds. In 2007 about 15 different species bred on Heuwiese (including four species of gull and several species of duck).

One feature are the breeding cormorants on the island that, despite being tree nesters, have built high nests on the ground here.

Outline of birds

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to birds:

Birds (class Aves) – winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), egg-laying, vertebrate animals. There are around 10,000 living species, making them the most varied of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) bee hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) ostrich.

Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island (from Irish: Reachlainn) is an island and civil parish off the coast of County Antrim (of which it is part) in Northern Ireland. It is Northern Ireland's northernmost point (though not that of either the island of Ireland, or Ulster, which in both cases is Malin Head in County Donegal).


A rookery is a colony of breeding animals, generally birds. Rooks – northern-European and central-Asian members of the crow family – nest in prominent colonies (multiple nests) at the tops of trees. The word applies to the nesting place of birds, such as crows and rooks, the source of the term. The breeding grounds of colony-forming seabirds and marine mammals (true seals or sea lions) and even some turtles are also referred to as rookeries.

The term "rookery" was also borrowed as a name for dense slum housing in nineteenth-century cities, especially in London.Paleontological evidence points to the existence of rookery-like colonies in the pterosaur Pterodaustro.

Saint Lazaria Wilderness

The Saint Lazaria Wilderness (formerly the Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge) or St. Lazaria Island is a nesting bird colony located twenty miles (32 km) west of Sitka, Alaska and is a part of the Gulf of Alaska unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. It is located in Sitka Sound, just south of Kruzof Island, and within the limits of the City and Borough of Sitka, Alaska. The island's name is Kanasx'ée in the Tlingit language.

Salleq Island

Salleq Island (old spelling: Sagdleq) is an uninhabited island in the Qaasuitsup municipality in northwestern Greenland. It is located in the north-central part of the Uummannaq Fjord. The walls of the island feature characteristic multicolor bands of gneiss and granite layers.

Air Greenland helicopters approach Ukkusissat Heliport on the way from Uummannaq Heliport alongside the southern and western wall of the large Appat Island, to then pass above the narrow Appat Ikerat strait separating it from Salleq Island.

Syltefjorden (Finnmark)

Syltefjorden is a fjord in Båtsfjord Municipality in Finnmark county, Norway. The 16-kilometre (9.9 mi) long fjord flows from the river Syltefjordelva on the large Varanger Peninsula into the Barents Sea. The Varangerhalvøya National Park lies just south of the fjord.Historically, there were three fishing villages located around the fjord: Nordfjord, Hamna, and Ytre Syltefjord. All three villages were abandoned during the 20th century. Along the northern shore of the fjord lies the large Syltefjordstauran mountain. The mountain is home to a very large bird colony that is popular with tourists.

Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge

Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge is a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge off the northern Oregon Coast. It is located on the central coast of Tillamook County, in the northwestern part of Oregon. It is one of six National Wildlife Refuges within the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex and was the first National Wildlife Refuge west of the Mississippi River. In 1970 the Refuge was designated as wilderness. It is one of the smallest wilderness areas in the United States.

Tone Lise Moberg

Tone Lise Moberg (born 1 April 1970 in Os, Hordaland, Norway) is a Norwegian singer and song teacher.

Tyuleny Island (Sea of Okhotsk)

Tyuleny Island (Ostrov Tyuleniy) is a small island in the Sea of Okhotsk, just east of Russia's Sakhalin island, Northeast Asia.


Vesterålen is a district and archipelago in Nordland county, Norway. It is located just north of the Lofoten district and archipelago and west of the town of Harstad. It is the northernmost part of Nordland county, including the municipalities of Andøy, Bø, Hadsel, Sortland, and Øksnes.


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