Tuesday, May 15, 2012

locally grown Yellow-crowned Night-Herons

Over the weekend I investigated the suspicious rumors of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons nesting in marshes around Durham and Chapel Hill.  What could these birds possibly be doing around the triangle, when they should be down at the beach?  Eating crayfish and raising young?  Likely story!

And by "rumors" I just mean great photos of nests taken by top local birders...clearly this was a mystery in need of investigation!

Luckily I was able to convince Will Cook to let me cover the highway 54 waterfowl impoundments for the Chapel Hill Spring Bird count.  I had never birded these spots before (until recently I thought they were duck prisons and I'm not into captive birds), so I wasn't sure what to expect.

But when I arrived at dawn, lo and behold the trees were filled with Yellow-crowned Night-Herons!
Yellow-crowned Night-Herons at the New Hope Creek waterfowl impoundment
Well, actually I only counted 7, but it was still a heck of a lot more Night-Heron action than I expected to find!

When I passed back by their haunt at 9 am, there wasn't a single one left to be found.  They had all gone off to roost for the day I assume.  They are Night-Herons after all, so-called because of their nocturnal (or maybe crepuscular?) behavior.

Look at those toes! How can that be comfortable?

I'm not sure whether the local population is growing or it's just that birders aren't at these little artificial highway-side marshes at dawn very often (I suspect both).  All I know is that there is a ton of habitat similar to the area I covered that is either inaccessible or virtually never checked.

A simple extrapolation leads me to believe that at least several dozen Yellow-crowned Night-Herons must breed in the area.  Yet until 5 or 6 years ago these birds were almost never detected on area spring bird counts.  The previous record high count for the Chapel Hill Spring Count was 11 individuals.  If only I could have been at two impoundments at once perhaps I could have broken the record...

Oh well, maybe next year!


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  2. always ? a few in Wilmington along Burnt Mill Creek

  3. Enjoyed this post! Increasing populations are intriguing because they raise questions - do the night-herons affect local populations of other species? - are they replacing some other bird that has declined? - is the habitat changing, and therefore the populations? Of note: Miller Park in Winston-Salem is a great little urban park with nesting yellow-crowned night-herons. I saw them last year - very enjoyable! (page 3 of this link < http://www.ncbirdingtrail.org/TrailGuide/Guide_NorthwestPiedmont.pdf > - Erla Beegle