Black-crowned Night Herons are a common sight some other places. For a while a whole tribe of them lived in a tree in downtown Oakland near the main Post Office. But the last time I saw one around this park was a few years ago. It was so unexpected, and looked just grey from a distance, that my first thought was, “Oh, a Willet!” But this bird acted most un-Willet like. It stalked and froze for a good long time. Not a Willet! Willets do a lot of random pecking and rely on the law of averages to get something. Not this heron. It was super focused. It did miss a couple of times but it didn’t waste a lot of energy in the process. Compare also the Snowy Egret. The Egret agitates a pool of water with one foot, trying to stir up whatever’s lurking in there. This heron just freezes and waits.
The other odd thing is that these herons, as the name implies, prefer to hunt in the dark or at least at dusk. I encountered it at a few minutes before 5 pm at a time when the sun was still shining brightly.
This heron wasn’t bothered in the slightest by my approach, tripod and all. I probably could have got down in the mud with it for a close-up if I cared to. I filmed it frozen in a stalking position for a solid two minutes, and gave up bored before it made a move (it gave up too, without striking). In my YouTube video I only showed a few seconds of that pose; check it out here. I wondered where this bird usually hung out and where its flock was; these herons are quite sociable.
The Cornell bird lab website has these “Cool Facts” about Black-crowned Night Herons:
- Scientists find it easy, if a bit smelly and messy, to study the diet of young Black-crowned Night-Herons—the nestlings often disgorge their stomach contents when approached.
- Black-crowned Night Heron nest in groups that often include other species, including herons, egrets, and ibises.
- A breeding Black-crowned Night-Heron will brood any chick that is placed in its nest. The herons apparently don’t distinguish between their own offspring and nestlings from other parents.
- Young Black-crowned Night-Herons leave the nest at the age of 1 month but cannot fly until they are 6 weeks old. They move through the vegetation on foot, joining up in foraging flocks at night.
- The familiar evening sight and sound of the Black-crowned Night-Heron was captured in this description from Arthur Bent’s Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds: “How often, in the gathering dusk of evening, have we heard its loud, choking squawk and, looking up, have seen its stocky form, dimly outlined against the gray sky and propelled by steady wing beats, as it wings its way high in the air toward its evening feeding place in some distant pond or marsh!”
- The oldest Black-crowned Night-Heron on record was a female who was at least 21 years, 5 month old.