Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bird to look for # 9: Black-crowned Night-Heron

There are not many bird species that vocalize at night in New Orleans, but one call that the keen listener can generally expect to hear from time to time is the kwok of the Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Like their Yellow-crowned cousins, Black-crowned Night-Herons use a variety of waterways in our area, including urban canals and batture ponds.  Although commonly active at night, they are not strictly nocturnal, and can often be seen out and about by day.   A reliable place to find them is in the Louisiana Swamp exhibit in the Audubon Zoo, especially where the path exits the indoor exhibits and runs into the lagoon.  These are freeloaders, not part of the zoo collection, but are generally closely approachable.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are stocky waterbirds, noticeably more robust than almost all other large waders.  Adult Black-crowns are strikingly patterned, with black crown and back and gray wings- all very clean, with no mottling.   Birds in their first year are brown and white streaked, and can be tricky to separate from Yellow-crowns.    Birds in this plumage have a noticeably different bill and head shape than do Yellow-crowns, having a more slender bill and less blocky head (more tapered in the front).  In flight, only the tips of their feet extend beyond the tail.  Because  the large majority of Yellow-crowns migrate to the tropics for the winter, any night heron from now through February will most likely be a Black-crowned.

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