BCNH Project

Investing in Conservation:
The Black-crowned Night-Heron Story

How did it come to pass that an endangered bird, the Black-crowned Night Heron, is nesting freely within Lincoln Park Zoo? 


Investing in Conservation: The Chicago Black-crowned Night-Heron Story

Once abundant throughout the wetlands of Illinois, Black-crowned Night-Herons were added to the Illinois Endangered Species List in 1977. The species is declining due to habitat degradation and loss. And yet, one lone colony remains, and seems to be flourishing in an unlikely urban setting, Lincoln Park Zoo in the heart of Chicago. This story begins in 2007 when these iconic birds, with their fiery red eyes and dapper plumage, began to appear in Lincoln Park. Last year there were more than 600 herons nesting there. They produced 486 hatch year birds. While this may seem like a happily-ever-after ending, the tale is far from over.

The future for these birds in Illinois is not guaranteed. When species concentrate, one catastrophic weather or disease-related event can bring serious disaster. Their colony is also limited to the size of the habitat at the zoo. But this tale is about to take a new turn because exciting new research is underway. Using tracking devices will help us better understand where they forage and prefer to spend their time. This data will help researchers better understand how to help these herons establish new nesting sites and which habitats need protection and restoration. Investing in research illuminates the path to Black-crowned Night-Herons’ recovery in Illinois.

Illinois Audubon Society, Lincoln Park Zoo, Bird Conservation Network, Chicago Black-crowned Night-Heron Project, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign partnered to sponsor a series of zoom programs to explore the history of the Black-crowned Night-Heron, its current plight and how this research gives us hope for a prosperous future. Could studying Chicago’s urban rookery reveal keys to restoring Illinois’ Black-crowned Night-Herons? Find the zoom recordings here.

Help support Black-crowned Night Heron research here.