Best Non-Zoo Animal at the National Zoo

Black-Crowned Night Heron
3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 633-4888
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Photograph by Darrow Montgomery
The black-crowned night heron isn’t the most exotic animal you might encounter at the National Zoo’s Bird House, nor is it the handsomest. But one may take you by surprise, especially if you’re not expecting it to dramatically exit an exhibit that it appeared to be confined to only moments before. These feathery freeloaders happily chow down on food provided by the zoo, but these wild animals are only guests. They’ve been making summer migrations to this wooded hill for at least 100 years and spend the rest of their time wintering down in Florida. The birds are fun to watch, but the real entertainment value is the tourists they shock each day. Take a bench by the Bird House in the summer, and watch as families catch sight of an apparent great escape and fret about whether or not to flag down a zookeeper.
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