Local Bird

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Young Night Heron up in cypress tree. Lucy Phenix photo.

Nine in the morning isn’t exactly night time, but this Night Heron was out and about anyway, perched in full sunlight on the top of a rock on the east side of the park, in plain view of anyone passing on the perimeter trail. Maybe it felt secure enough to pose there because this little patch of earth is its home.

It was probably hatched in a nest up in a cypress tree on the edge of a driveway leading into the Hilton Doubletree hotel, where photographer Lucy Phenix spotted this youngster on September 3 (photo right). The kids have a streaky grey hood and overcoat and a soft grey belly.

I saw the same young one, or one of its siblings or cousins, in the rip-rap on the east side of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary, also in broad morning light, photo below. I’ve seen juveniles and grownups in that area several times. This one had already adopted the passive hunting method of its elders: standing still like a French mime and waiting for something edible to approach, then a lightning strike. It seems like a low percentage method to me, but it must work for them or there wouldn’t be any around. They supplement their natural diet locally by fighting the gulls for scraps left behind by fishers coming in with their power boats and cleaning their catch at the water station in the parking lot near the boat launch. But that isn’t essential to the species; it’s considered the most widespread heron in the world, more successful in adapting to diverse environments than typical daytime herons such as the Great Blue and the Great Egret and the Snowy Egret. These others sometimes sit still and wait but they more frequently adopt an active foraging style. I rarely see a Night Heron stalking territory looking for prey, the way these others typically do.

Young black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

The bluish-green patch of skin between the eye and the bill (the lore) indicates that this bird has not yet done any breeding. It would turn black during its first breeding season, then yellowish or dark olive until the next breeding season, then black again. The orange eye color also indicates that it’s not yet two years of age. By that time the iris begins to turn red.

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2 thoughts on “Local Bird

  • I agree with Sally. I love this post. The photos are superb.

  • Thanks! Great photos and adjoining descriptions of behavior and the changing facial colorations.

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