wander the sea

Yellow-crowned Night Heron


During one morning, I stopped by a marshy area along Bayou St. John. I was planning on running over the levee just across the bayou. The sun was already out, displaying its devilish games. The grass was wet and dewy; in some parts mushy—remnants from Sunday’s storm that flooded some neighborhoods. I cut through the grass, checking what spots to avoid so my sneakers wouldn’t get soaked. “Ahh too wet.” The shaded spots were still wet, and the sunnier ones had dry yellow, green grass. I walked up a steep concrete incline to the top, overlooking a marshland tied along to Bayou St. John, which was close to the Robert E. Lee Blvd. overpass.

Observations

After my run, I went back to the car to check for my camera, and realized I forgot to charge my battery. At least I had binoculars in case of any bird sightings. My camera was obsolete at this point, and I was mad at myself. I suspected, I would not see too many birds, since it was past sunrise and it was hot outside. All the birds were probably hiding. From the top of the levee, I saw a bird with curvy neck observing the water. Some type of heron, I thought. It was a lot smaller than a Great Blue Heron, but it had a similar gray hue. I walked down the levee, toward the bird, keeping a good distance away, where I could see it better. Its head was black, minus the thick white patch across its face. I looked at it for a while before I walked closer. When it noticed me, it walked away to the left side near some over grown wild grass. It stood there wondering my next move, listening for any steps I might take. I walked closer, then once it noticed I was taking photos, it decided it had enough and flew away, making its way to a wide circular lookout. “Ha you can’t get me here,” it probably thought. I pointed my binoculars toward the heron, noticing its plumage, the curve of its neck, the odd white patch, its yellow eyes, and a tiny black pupil in the middle.

Most of the time, I only see birds up close through drawings or videos, and it’s always beautifully strange seeing them in the real world. I wish I could draw it, exactly as I saw the bird, with its smooth gray plumage, the superiority of its bill, but with my drawing skills, I couldn’t possibly capture exactly as it looked.

I noticed it was making a strange gesture with its wings, so I chose to walk away. It was turning aggressive even though I was far away. Its wings were folded on the side and its chest was pushed out, as if saying, “I’ll fight you.” “I think it hates me. It’s doing something weird,” I thought, and I playfully hid my face thinking the bird was pissed. Then it began cleaning the lower parts of its wings. Eventually, it forgot about me.

I also saw a Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron, standing by the overpass, but it soon flew away, seeing as no one was paying attention to it. It flew to a large tree behind the bayou.

Facts

Yellow-crowned Night Herons forage at all hours of the day and night, eating crustaceans near wetlands and wet fields, usually searching for crabs and crayfish. They slowly stalk prey near shallow water, plunge with their bills, impale, shake apart or swallow whole crustaceans. They also feed on earthworms and leeches, frogs, and young birds. They tend to be several feet away from the water’s edge, never too close to others—at least 15 feet from other individuals. These herons live along coastal marches, barrier islands, and mangroves. They have stocky bodies, short legs, and thick necks.

For nest building, they make use of dead, brittle twigs, breaking them if they have to, sometimes stealing from other nests. These nests can measure up to 4 feet. Both females and males work together in the building of the nests, and the process can take up to 10 days. Nests are sometimes re-used, filled with more twigs, often lasting 20 years. Herons tend to nest close or over water in trees such as pine and oak—as high as 60 feet or more off the ground—or on lower vegetation such as mulberry, myrtle, hackberry, and mangrove.

When it comes to looking for a mate, herons perform display flights and males will stretch their necks by slowly raising then quickly retracting its head while fanning his long shoulder plumes, to which the females will sometimes reciprocate. Pairing is socially monogamous, as they maintain their bonds year to year, nesting close together. Both adults and young defend their site from intruders, by lunging and thrusting with their bills while squawking.

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