Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Brazos Bend

My favorite photo from this week’s rainy daytrip to Brazos Bend State Park was of this Yellow-crowned Night-Heron:

Or maybe this one is my favorite.  You decide:

Although the Yellow-crowned Night Heron is mainly nocturnal in nature (thus the name), it is commonly sighted by both birders and non-birders when driving along suburbia’s roads, especially when driving next to low lying fields (or drainage ditches) with standing water after a good rain.   The Yellow-crowned will appear “frozen” as if someone just called out “Red Light!” in a childhood game of Red Light/Green Light.  Their frozen yoga-like pose usually finds them eyeing the shallow standing water. This roadside “Red Light” behavior makes sense with the knowledge that crawfish, as well as crabs, are their preferred diet.  I’ve had non-birder friends ask me: “What is that bird that looks like a dinosaur, stands next to the drainage ditch, and doesn’t move at all?”  Well, my friends have usually identified a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron; and one that is patiently waiting to grab a crawfish.

And even though Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are a fairly common sighting, they are not overly friendly to photographers or birders wanting a close encounter.  They like a good distance away from huemawns, especially when fishing or taking a daytime nap.  This is not unfamiliar behavior to me, but pretty much reminds me of my own family members.   

But this rainy daytrip to Brazos Bend allowed me fairly close encounters with the two mature adults in the above photographs.  Both were aware of my solitary presence but stayed put with the spitting rain and dark skies. Both seemed ready to fly at any moment, carefully watching my slow arm and hand movement as I changed camera settings and protected gear from the rain.

This photo of one, magnified to the point of being blurry, shows the nictating membrane shuttering across the eye.  The nictating membrane is a translucent eyelid that provides protection and moisture while allowing the bird to maintain visibility.  Note that it moves horizontally across the eye:

As I walked further along the trail, I caught these two juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in full juvenile camouflage: 

These two juveniles were well trained by Mother Nature to instinctively go “up” if suspecting threat, so I only got the one photo above before they became the difficult to shoot (photograph) “juvenile in tree”:

Next time you are driving along the gulf coast after a good rain, take a look at areas of standing water and you may too sight these herons of the night, chasing crawfish with the greatest of patience.  Red light!


  1. I particularly like the two juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons on the log. Nice photograph of birds in habitat.

  2. Great pictures as usual. You are really pumping out the posts lately. Seems life is good if you are getting out and doing what you love best.



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