Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spectacular Yellow-crowned Night-Herons Back for Another Year

The yellow-crowned night-herons have returned once again to their established nesting sites in Mecklenburg County. These are spectacular birds that become neighborhood celebrities wherever they choose to set up housekeeping. There are only three known active locations in the county; Myers Park, Plaza-Midwood, and Mallard Creek Greenway. The Myers Park and Plaza-Midwood sites have been active for years. The first pair arrived about a week ago and hopefully will be joined by a few others.

The birds show a strong site-fidelity meaning they return to the same tree every year. If the previous year’s nests are good shape they just do a little readjustment and adding of sticks. If they need a new nest they will just build a new one in the same spot.

Their favorite food appears to be crayfish that they catch in the urban creeks within the city. Briar Creek seems to be a favorite foraging site for these birds. True to their name they fish mostly at night. Days are spent quietly roosting in the willow oak or pine tree nest site. Even though the nests are in densely populated areas they would largely go unnoticed except for the large amount of white wash that accumulates under the roost trees.

The yellow-crowned night-herons are one of my favorite examples of wildlife adapting to an urban habitat.

Adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron by Phil Fowler

Below is a shot of two juvenile birds from the nest site in Myers Park

Photo by Phil Fowler
Below is a fledged juvenile from the same site. Note the juvenile plumage of brown and cream streaking and spotting. Also note the stout bill, perfect for grabbing and crunching crayfish, a favorite food.

Photo by Phil Fowler.