Photographed in Brazos Bend State Park
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 forage both during the day and at night—in coastal areas the tide can trump the time of day: most foraging occurs from 3 hours before high tide to 3 hours after.
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).
The oldest Yellow-crowned Night-Heron on record, banded in Mexico in 1974, was at least 6 years, 3 months old.
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.
Photographed in Anahuac NWR
A small, dark heron arrayed in moody blues and purples, the Little Blue Heron is a common but inconspicuous resident of marshes and estuaries in the Southeast. They stalk shallow waters for small fish and amphibians, adopting a quiet, methodical approach that can make these gorgeous herons surprisingly easy to overlook at first glance. Little Blue Herons build stick nests in trees alongside other colonial waterbirds. In the U.S., their populations have been in a gradual decline since the mid-twentieth century.
During the feathered-hat fashion craze of the early twentieth century, Little Blue Herons’ lack of showy “aigrette plumes” saved them from the hunting frenzy that decimated other heron and egret populations.
Little Blue Herons may gain a survival advantage by wearing white during their first year of life. Immature birds are likelier than their blue elders to be tolerated by Snowy Egrets—and in the egrets’ company, they catch more fish. Mingling in mixed-species flocks of white herons, immature Little Blue Herons probably also acquire extra protection against predators.
With their patchy white-and-blue appearance, Little Blue Herons in transition from the white first-year stage to blue adult plumage are often referred to as “Calico,” “Pied,” or “Piebald.”
When observing groups of white herons and egrets foraging together, look for the slow, deliberate movements of an immature Little Blue Heron. This stately and deliberate pace helps distinguish the Little Blue Heron from its relatives, which tend to move more quickly or erratically.
A row of built-in “teeth” along the Little Blue Heron’s middle toe serves as a grooming comb. The bird uses this handy tool to scratch its head, neck, and throat.
Pair photographed at the Smith Oaks Rookery, Houston Audubon at High Island, Texas
This is a gallery dedicated to the breeding behavior of the Great Egret I did last year.
The Great Egret breeding season is in full swing. It's a show unto itself.
The elegant Great Egret is a dazzling sight in many a North American wetland. Slightly smaller and more svelte than a Great Blue Heron, these are still large birds with impressive wingspans. They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a deadly jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late nineteenth century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds.
The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest environmental organizations in North America. Audubon was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.
Not all young that hatch survive the nestling period. Aggression among nestlings is common and large chicks frequently kill their smaller siblings. This behavior, known as siblicide, is not uncommon among birds such as hawks, owls, and herons, and is often a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.
The pristinely white Great Egret gets even more dressed up for the breeding season. A patch of skin on its face turns neon green, and long plumes grow from its back. Called aigrettes, those plumes were the bane of egrets in the late nineteenth century, when such adornments were prized for ladies’ hats.
In mixed-species colonies, Great Egrets are often the first species to arrive, and their presence may induce nesting among other species.
Great Egrets fly slowly but powerfully: with just two wingbeats per second their cruising speed is around 25 miles an hour.
Though it mainly hunts while wading, the Great Egret occasionally swims to capture prey or hovers (somewhat laboriously) over the water and dips for fish.