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  • Writer's pictureJeff

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

The oldest Yellow-crowned Night-Heron on record, banded in Mexico in 1974, was at least 6 years, 3 months old.

While not as slender as a typical heron, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron’s smooth purple-gray colors, sharp black-and-white face, and long yellow plumes lend it a touch of elegance. They forage at all hours of the day and night, stalking crustaceans in shallow wetlands and wet fields. Their diet leans heavily on crabs and crayfish, which they catch with a lunge and shake apart, or swallow whole. They’re most common in coastal marshes, barrier islands, and mangroves, but their range extends inland as far as the Midwest.

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are especially common in coastal areas, but you can also find them inland along wooded river valleys as well as in open habitats such as wet lawns and golf courses. Look for them foraging on the ground, often along tidal creeks, where they stand still or walk slowly with a hunched-over posture. Scan with binoculars or a spotting scope across saltmarshes and look for the bold yellow-and-black patterning of the bird’s head emerging from a gap in the vegetation. Nesting birds can be well hidden in trees and may occur with other heron species. These birds are often active at night, so keep an eye out at dusk and dawn for night-herons commuting from roosts to foraging areas. During late summer and fall, young birds often wander north and west of their normal range—so be on the lookout.

Along the Atlantic Coast, the timing of their breeding season depends on when crabs emerge in the spring, which itself depends on local temperatures.

Found year-round along the crustacean-rich southern Atlantic coast, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in North America can also breed inland by feeding on crayfish in streams. They may breed as far north as Michigan and Ontario, and individuals can appear even farther north and west in spring (mainly adults) and late summer or early fall (juveniles).

This species shows up several times in the fossil record, and the earliest recorded fossil is 2–2.5 million years old (from Sarasota, Florida).

To build their nests, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons usually break dead, brittle twigs and branches directly from standing vegetation. In some colonies, they may completely strip trees of their twigs. They also sometimes steal twigs from other nests.

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons usually walk slowly, using a bent-over posture when foraging, and fly with slow wingbeats. Courting Yellow-crowned Night-Herons perform display flights, along with a neck-stretching display: the male slowly raises and then quickly retracts his head while fanning his long shoulder plumes. The female will sometimes reciprocate. They form socially monogamous pairs, and some maintain their bonds from year to year. Pairs may nest close together, but both adults and young defend the site from intruders, lunging and jabbing with their bills while squawking. Older young may peck or trample younger siblings and even push them out of the nest. After the breeding season, young birds often disperse to the north or west before heading to wintering grounds.

Pictures by Jeff from my backyard. Canon SX70HS

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