Friday, August 22, 2014

Bird to look for # 8: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Last week I was visiting an apartment complex in Harahan, and stepped around the corner into the small fenced in back yard.  There, out of place on the lawn surrounded by walls and high fences was a strange brown bird with long legs and sturdy beak, standing about thigh-high.  I called my kids over, and it began to walk away from us, and then flapped awkwardly up onto a nearby roof, which was covered by a temporary tarp.  It spent several seconds slipping backwards on the tarp as it flapped and tried to make its way to the crest, finally settling for a spot half way up where it was able to regain its composure.

It was a young Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, fledged earlier this summer, and still not smooth in its ways. There are a good number of them around the city this time of year.

Young Yellow-crowneds are entirely streaky and spotty brown and white, except for their red eye.  Here is another picture of one hatched this summer, offered up by Kathy Wells, who photographed it in coastal Mississippi.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are also around our parts, and their young are similar in plumage.  To the trained eye they are readily distinguishable by bill shape (more slender and pointed in Black-crowned) and neck/head proportions (thinner necked with a more blocky head in Yellow-crowned, thicker necked with  amore streamlined head in Black-crowned).  They can also be told by the leg length in flight- only the feet extend beyond the tail in Black-crowned, while a bit of the leg also does in Yellow-crowned.

Yellow-crowneds will be with us through October, with a very few hanging around for the winter.  This species turns up in a variety of wetland contexts, including right in the city.  One place where they are notably regular is in the ditch that flanks Nine Mile Point Road in Bridge City on the West Bank, where I see them each morning.  I see a juvenile most mornings in exactly the same spot; twice I have seen it act utterly unafraid as people walked by within about ten feet of it on the shoulder.  Today it drew a double-take from a jogger.  There are often Yellow-crowned adults along this road- two today. They are much more dapper: blue gray with a black head decorated with a white cheek, yellowish crown, and the same red eye.

Good birding,


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