Sunday, November 08, 2009

The bush has staring red eyes

Imagine a tangle of half-fallen trees, lichened branches, bedraggled blackberry vines, dead twigs. Like this one:

That's a juvenile black-crowned night heron, out in plain sight. More or less; his feathers blended in with the colour of the branches, and he sat perfectly still. I have upped the contrast, to make him stand out.

We were near the entrance at Reifel Island, when a worker clearing brush pointed these out to us. The young one, and two adults. I couldn't see the adults at first, even when she lined me up to squint down her pointing finger. After a bit of walking back and forth to get different angles, my eyes adjusted and I caught the hint of white feathers behind the screen of branches. It was quite a distance away; I couldn't see the features. The camera did a better job.

Adult black-crowned night heron, Nicticorax nicticorax.

I didn't see the second one until we passed the trees an hour later. Laurie didn't see him at all.

The grey smudges are shadows. Just part of the camouflage.

A closer view of the young one.

This was a first sighting for me. Very exciting!

Characteristics for ID, from USGS;
  • Red eyes, legs yellow
  • Black bill
  • Black crown and back
  • White face, throat, foreneck, chest and belly
  • Blue-gray wings
  • Eyes yellowish to amber, legs dull greyish - check
  • Yellow base to bill - I didn't see this.
  • Brown head, neck, chest and belly streaked with buff and white - check.
  • Wings and back darker brown with large white spots at the tips of the feathers; spots especially large on the greater secondary coverts - check.

  • First year; similar to juvenile, but with less extensive spotting on upperwings and a dark cap
  • Second year; resemble the adult, but have a brown neck and wings contrasting with darker brown cap and back
  • Third year; full adult plumage
So this young one is either this year's nestling, or one year old.

And a "Cool Fact" from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Adult Black-crowned Night-Herons apparently do not distinguish between their own young and those from other nests, and will brood chicks not their own.
They nest in colonies, so there may have been several other herons in the same trees. And the adults we saw may not be the parents of Junior, here.


  1. You know, I wouldn't think there's one in the brush pile I can see across the wetland, but your post sure has made me curious to check it out.

  2. There's sure to be something in there, anyhow. Worth wading over to see.


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