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An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and DigIB Bird of the Week, the Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Apr 30, 2020 03:08AM ● By Paul Spear

An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, 

                        the Yellow Crowned Night Heron

The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will have background on the bird. This week’s bird is the “Yellow-crowned Night Heron”

“Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the “Yellow-crowned Night Heron”

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea}. Although this bird is a nocturnal heron of the southern swamps 

and coasts, this non-native species can often be spotted in our own Tijuana Estuary. It has a cream-colored stripe on its crown, and a thinner stripe below a red iris in the eye on its black face. It has long yellow legs, and a slaty blue-gray body with "shaggy" feathers on back and wings.

They usually nest in small colonies, sometimes with other wading birds, and forage along tidal marshes, in tide pools and the shores of water bodies where crustaceans are abundant. The great majority of the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron's diet consists of crustaceans. They eat many kinds of crabs, including 

blue, ghost, and fiddler crabs, as well as crayfish. Other prey include insects, fish, snails, earthworms, marine worms, and leeches. Occasionally they've been found eating lizards, snakes, young birds, mice, and small rabbits. Foraging birds stand still or slowly stalk crabs and other prey along shorelines, marshes, and fields. Once in striking range they lunge at their prey and seize it in their bill. They swallow small prey whole, but often shake apart, crush, or spear larger prey. They forage on their own, typically keeping other individuals at a distance of 15 feet or more. 

Courting Yellow-crowned Night-Herons make display flights around their colonies, sometimes with the neck conspicuously extended. Courting pairs make a neck-stretching display, slowly raising and then quickly pushing the head back between its shoulders, while fanning the long shoulder plumes. Males do this first and females sometimes follow.

Both sexes help build the nest, which can be as high as 60 feet or so, away from the trunk on a horizontal limb, often hanging over water. The female stands on the nest site while the male carries sticks to her as part of the pair-bonding process. As the nest comes along, the female begins to gather sticks as well—the birds typically strip sticks from the limbs of dead trees rather than gathering them from the ground. Sticks can be up to about 2 feet long and 1 inch thick. The 

 twig nest is sometimes lined with leaves, vines, or Spanish moss. The nest takes about 11 days to build initially; night-herons use them for several years, adding to them each year. Nests can be 4 feet across, with just a shallow depression inside for the eggs.

This is a beautiful bird that is eagerly sought by wildlife photographers. We are lucky to have the Yellow-crowned Night Heron among the many diverse species to enjoy in our own Tijuana Estuary. Take a walk on the many trails there, and you may spot this beauty.


If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link:

Bryan Brillhart Photography or Bird of the Week


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