Jan 21 2010

Beyond Bounds: Yellow-crowned Night-heron

Published by at 7:32 am under Beyond Bounds,Water and Shore

Yellow-crowned Night-heron (photo by Steve Gosser)
If you’ve been following my Beyond Bounds series you’ll have noticed that most of the birds I highlight are long-legged wading birds.  Today’s blog is no exception.

Yellow-crowned night-herons are found year-round in Florida and along the Caribbean coast all the way to Brazil.  They breed as far north as coastal Connecticut and in southern Indiana and Illinois but they rarely wander to southwestern Pennsylvania.  That’s because they eat crabs, crayfish and aquatic insects in marshes and wooded swamps.  Again the Pittsburgh area strikes out on habitat. 

This heron is well named.  The crown of his head is yellow and he’s very nocturnal.  His blue-gray plumage earned him the Latin name Nyctanassa violacea and he has red eyes, perhaps an adaptation for nighttime vision.

Despite his predilection for darkness, the first time I saw a yellow-crowned night-heron was in broad daylight at Nummy Island, NJ.  It was mid-May and the herons and egrets were busy nesting.  True to their nocturnal habits, most of the night-herons were roosting in thick woody shrubs but one of them was dragging around with bleary eyes carrying sticks to her nest.  I guess she was running out of time and had to “pull an all-nighter.”

If you want to see yellow-crowned night-herons in Pennsylvania your best bet is during late spring or early summer in the lower Susquehanna and Delaware valleys.  Even then they’re rare.  You usually have to travel beyond our bounds. 

Steve Gosser photographed this one in Florida.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Beyond Bounds: Yellow-crowned Night-heron”

  1. kellyon 22 Jan 2010 at 11:34 am

    in my coastal hometown of manasquan, new jersey (approx. 20 miles south of sandy hook), there are a decent amount of yellow-crowned night-herons around during the breeding season. your entry made me think of something i never thought of before: i’ve encountered these beauties in all types of light conditions. i see them during the day and have seen and heard them during the nighttime also. there is a small nesting colony that has chosen to utilize the tall trees of a busy residential area near a marsh for about 5 years running now. they nest right above the street which makes the nests easy to find for those paying attention (think large, fishy-smelling splat marks on black pavement). my most memorable sighting of these birds includes a juvenile foraging with an adult. the adult passed over a big crab in favor of the smaller fiddler crabs which it easily picked off and wolfed down. the juvenile did not take the adult’s lead. it could not resist the big crab and spent a good half hour trying to figure out how to eat it. in the end after lots of stabs (literally), it somehow positioned the crab in a way so that it went down whole. it was painful to watch. ouch!!!

    thanks for reminding me of summer!

  2. Marge Van Tasselon 22 Jan 2010 at 4:03 pm

    As always, Steve has captured a beautiful bird so crisp it’s almost like looking at it yourself. He certainly does the birds justice!!
    Thanks for an interesting article about this heron, Kate…I also got a chuckle out of your view of the one with “bleary eyes” in NJ. Hope to see one of these beauties this year.

  3. Jenniferon 13 May 2011 at 10:26 am

    I am just becoming a backyard birder. I am enjoying watching a pair of Yellow-Crowned Night Herons build their nest. Sounds like they are not too common up here in coastal CT but not rare either. They are very full, fluffy birds – took a long time to find them in websites because I didnt notice the yellow crown until a friend took a photo and we zoomed in. Neat! Nice blog ;-)

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