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It’s in your nature: Night herons

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    An immature black-crowned night heron will develop the adult plumage after one year.

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    The yellow-crowned night heron, seldom seen this far north, has a slimmer body shape than the “black crowned.”

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    An adult black-crowned night heron is aptly named. Note the typical night heron shorter neck. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    Most herons and egrets, such as this great blue heron, have longer legs and neck than the night herons.

Published June 29. 2019 06:15AM

If you are an ardent birder, a dedicated rookie birder, or just in the right place at the right time you can find one species of night heron here in the Times News area. That species is the black-crowned night heron. There is also a similar species that ventures into Pennsylvania: the yellow-crowned night heron.

As the name implies, they do most of their feeding at night or at dusk or dawn. The black-crowned night heron has the distinction of being the most widespread heron species on this earth. Unfortunately, our local area doesn’t offer the best habitats for either of these species or in fact for most shorebirds.

My birding buddies, Dave and Rich, generally see one or two “black crowns” at Beltzville Lake each year. I’m sure the upper reaches of Mauch Chunk Lake or Tippett’s swamp would attract them, too. One immature “black crown” was photographed near the Times News building on a migratory stopover.

Both of these species are a bit unlike their cousins the great blue heron and great egret. Night herons have shorter legs and a shorter neck. The night herons and their cousins all nest in colonies and feed on most of the same prey items. Fish, amphibians, snakes, crayfish and even leeches and an occasional bird are potential fare. Their night feeding habits allow them to avoid the competition from their mostly larger heron cousins. They have obviously adapted well to feeding in the dark.

The yellow-crowned night heron is generally found farther south and most common in the wooded coastal swamps and “deep” swamps of the southeast. You might stumble on one if you visit one of Florida’s theme parks or on a walk near an undeveloped wetland. The “yellow-crowned” doesn’t have a very bright yellow cap. Usually it is more buff colored. They also appear thinner than the “black crowns.”

Black-crowned night herons are more likely seen locally because they breed farther north and even into southern Canada. They congregate in the trees lining the marshes of southern New Jersey, the lower Delaware Bay, and Maryland coastal marshes. I look for them in trees just above the water line where they roost during the day until returning to the shorelines later in the evening. The “black crowns” appear chunkier than their yellow-crowned cousins. Assateague State and National Parks harbor them during the fall migrations, as well as areas around Cape May New Jersey or Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge. No matter where you find either, they are “neat” birds to find and add to your annual bird lists.

Test your outdoor knowledge: Animal species are specifically classified by their scientific names. What animal might have a scientific name of Falco peregrinus? A. sparrow hawk (kestrel), B. house sparrow, C. peregrine falcon, D. song sparrow.

Last week’s trivia answer: Once quite common and sometimes a nuisance around farm ponds, the muskrat has seen a drastic population drop with no definitive answer yet revealed as to why.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

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