Thursday, February 7, 2013

Phenology: Night Heron

Floodwaters are subsiding in Scott County, Virginia, but yesterday on the way to the computer center I saw an unusual bird flying to the top of a big tree. Crow? Too big, and not black enough, even against the sun. That red-tailed hawk I've been observing all winter? No; when perched it turned in such a way as to show its beak, then stretched out its neck. It was a small heron with black wings and a yellowish breast.

As if trying to make identifying it easier, the bird then answered a crow that was caw-cawing across the street. It was clearly echoing the crow's caws, not making the "croak" or "skeow" noises that identify the Green Heron.

There are two different, but not very different, species of Night Herons in the Eastern United States. Here's the one that is also found in Europe:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-crowned_Night-Heron/id

And here's the one that's distinctly American:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow-crowned_Night-Heron/id

I wasn't close enough to see the "crown" feathers at the top of its head, but after checking out both Cornell fact pages linked above, I think the voice sounded more like the Yellow-crowned. Hard to be sure. The herons recorded at the Cornell web site were not talking to crows.