Bird of the Month: Black-crowned Night Heron

audubon-logo-wood-duck-square-medium-300x300By Russ Chappell

Normally considered nocturnal birds, the beautiful Black-crowned Night Heron may move about during the daytime while feeding, primarily in the evening or after nightfall. During twilight hours, they may be seen flying toward one of their favorite foraging spots, sounding their loud and harsh quawk from which they received one of their popular names, the “Qua-bird.”

The preferred hunting grounds of the Black-crowned Night Heron are shallow creeks, edges of ponds, and swamps which may include pools. They usually hunt alone and at some distance from their breeding location, so feeding their young involves lengthy flights back to the nest. Rather than stand rigidly, knee-deep in the water, like Great Blue Herons, night-herons move stealthily, head lowered, neck curved, ready for the quick stroke that brings demise to whatever frog, fish, or other prey they locate.

Sociable birds, night herons often reside in large colonies during the nesting season. These heronries are usually in secluded wooded areas and may include hundreds of pairs plus four or five youngsters per family. The parents frequently raise two broods a season, so it’s common to find the adult birds feeding two sets of young simultaneously: fledglings in the nest and older juveniles scrambling around in the branches near the nest.

An adult and juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron. Photo by John West.

Slightly over two feet in length, adult Black-crowned Night Herons are black and ash-gray with white below, and they display long white head plumes during breeding season. Juveniles are brown with light spots on their backs and dark brown streaks on tan underparts.

Recently, several of these magnificent birds, both adults and juveniles, were spotted in Watson Woods and at Willow Lake. Professor Carl Tomoff’s “Birds of Prescott, Arizona, Annotated Checklist” lists this species as “fairly common during spring and fall migrations, casual during the summer and accidental in the winter.”

There is no guarantee Black-crowned Night-Herons are still present at these sites, but it may be worth a shot. If not, there is no shortage of other beautiful species to entertain you.

Happy birding!

*****

Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.

Russ Chappell is webmaster and a member of the Prescott Audubon Society, the local National Audubon Society chapter, and he encourages anyone with an interest in birds to check out this friendly, thriving non-profit organization.

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