What Is Roosting?

Photo Joel Jorgenson

Here's how two experts answered when we asked: What does roosting mean?

Tom Stehn, Aransas NWR biologist and Whooping Crane Recovery Team:
"Roosting refers more to cranes moving to a safe location (called a roost) to spend the night. It doesn't necessarily refer to sleeping, although that is mainly what happens at a roost. You'd really have to ask a crane why it sometimes stands on one leg to sleep. Cranes can sleep standing on one leg or two legs — they do both. They sometimes tuck their head under their wing when they sleep; other times they simply stand and the neck droops a little and they doze off. I don't know why cranes stand on one leg. Perhaps it allows resting of leg muscles one leg at a time. Perhaps it helps keep a leg warm during cold weather. Perhaps there are other reasons. I don't really know! The adults prefer water about 8 to 10 inches deep for roosting to keep predators from sneaking up on them."

Korie Klink, Visitor Programs Coordinator at ICF:
"By definition, roosting is "to sit, rest, or sleep, as birds on a pole, tree or other perch at night". I suppose their one leg could be considered an "other perch" I don't believe the term roosting is limited to sleeping only while standing up, but rather the behavior of resting or sleeping. Also, cranes stand on one leg for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it is simply a comfortable position for them. It seems unrealistic to us, whose favorite sleeping position is horizontal, but cranes favor the single leg posture. In fact, we have been informed that if a crane is roosting on
both legs, it can be taken as an indication that the bird is in ill health. More practically speaking, standing on one leg allows the cranes to keep the lifted leg warm by nestling it in their belly feathers. Every few minutes, they'll switch to get the other leg warm as well."

Try This! Journaling Question
  • Write a paragraph that explains roosting and why water roosting is important. Write a clear topic sentence and include statements and details that support it.
  • How do you think a young crane learns to roost in water at night?
  • Who teaches YOU the behaviors you need in order to keep safe?