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It’s in your nature: A crane, a heron, or an egret

Before I began writing for this paper, I had students, adults, relatives or neighbors report to me their sighting of a crane or cranes. They described a big white bird, long legs and a very sharp bill.

“Mr. Reed, what kind of crane did I see?” Well in the Times News region there are no white cranes. What that individual described was a type of egret. Actually, it could have been a great egret, snowy egret or even a cattle egret. They are all white birds as adults. Not trying to confuse you, but in the southern U.S. there is one egret - not white - the reddish egret. So, I can best make a rule of thumb that in our area or even Pennsylvania, if you see a generally tall, white bird, it is an egret.

Herons are also found in Pennsylvania and not surprisingly, they belong to the same bird family as egrets. The big difference is that our heron species in Pennsylvania, and here in our region, are not white at all. Great blue herons are our largest, and with a little stretch, are mostly blue. Green herons are fairly common here and through much of the U.S. They are much smaller and don’t have that tall, gangly look.

Statured much the same as the green heron are black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons. For your sake, only the black-crowned night herons venture here occasionally. Little blue herons are truly “blue herons” but I’m not sure one has ever been seen in Carbon County. They prefer salt marshes and flooded saltwater habitats.

Now don’t throw anything at me, a juvenile little blue heron is all white except for the black-tipped bill that they keep as an adult.

Now how about cranes? There are two crane species found in North America, the endangered whooping crane and the more numerous sandhill crane. I have only seen a few sandhill cranes in the Times News area, so obviously they are not too common. However they do nest in the state and more and more sightings are occurring. A sandhill crane’s basic color is gray. So locally if you see an all-white large bird it is not a type of crane!

In flight, the identification is much easier. Cranes are large birds, like a great blue heron, but here is a trait to remember. Cranes fly with their necks outstretched like a Canada goose in flight. Herons, with their long necks, fold them in an “S” shape as they fly.

Sooooo, in the Times News area you will regularly see great blue and green herons. Not common, but regular in our area (especially in late summer) the great egrets can make appearances. Residents near Mahoning Creek, and visitors to Phifer Ice Dam and some farm ponds, can expect to see one.

If you see any of the above mentioned birds this winter, I’ll bet it is a “great blue.” No matter, the only way you’ll see any of these is to GET OUT THERE!

FYI: Last year I watched live camera feeds of three bald eagle nests in Pennsylvania. Oddly, even though the three nests were in different parts of the state, all three eagles laid their first egg on Feb. 15. If interested, I’m listing the three sites to download and you can watch the interesting things happening at these nests. (Watch them shift duties, get covered in snowfalls, keep intruders from the nest, and see the young hatch, etc.) They are: Pittsburgh’s Hays eagle cam, PA farm country eagle, Livestreaming bald eagle nest Hanover, PA. The latter two can also be found on the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: A bald eagle will begin breeding at age: A. 1, B. 2, C. 5, D. 10.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: The rabbit tracks in the photo indicate it was moving to the left. The hind feet are actually in front as they hop.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

The great blue heron is probably the most commonly seen heron or egret in our region. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Great egrets usually make an appearance in our region in mid to late August as part of their post breeding dispersal.
Not commonly seen here, this resting sandhill crane could make an appearance locally. Remember, in flight, its neck is not tucked in like a heron.
Maybe the most common heron here, this green heron patrolling on a rainy day at Beltzville usually is not confused as a type of “crane.”