High tides force shorebirds from their intertidal feeding areas to refuges known as roosts. This paper explores the energetic costs of roost disturbance of great knot (Calidris tenuirostris) and red knot (C. canutus) at Roebuck Bay, North-western Australia, assessing disturbance levels at different roost sites through direct observation and automatic radio-telemetry, and applying physiological equations and predictive roost choice models to estimate energetic costs of disturbance through a complete tidal cycle. The study area had a variety of roosts, but use of each was constrained by conditions of tide and time. The roost most suitable for shorebirds on daytime high tides of intermediate height experienced high levels of disturbance from both natural sources (birds of prey) and humans. Flight costs caused by disturbance at this site exceeded the costs of flying to and roosting at the nearest alternative roost, 25 km away. However, shorebirds did not roost at the alternate site, possibly because of the risk of heat stress in a prolonged flight in tropical conditions. Increases in disturbance levels at just one of the roost sites of Roebuck Bay would increase energetic costs substantially, and could easily reach the point at which feeding areas accessed from this roost cannot be used without incurring a net energy deficit. Roost availability can therefore limit access to feeding areas and hence limit population size. Adequate provision and management of roost sites is accordingly an important consideration in conservation of sites used by coastal shorebirds. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.