Handful of Herons

I’m sometimes asked how many species of bird I’ve seen here at the Museum. Currently, the list is over 130 species. Of those, five species have been herons, great blue heron, great egret, green heron, and black-crowned and yellow-crowned night-herons.

A great blue heron, or two, can be seen in our wetlands year-round. Although some great blue herons migrate, they can be found in our area in any season.

Great blue heron.

Great egrets are widespread in North Carolina but are essentially a summer bird. The birds we see in North Carolina during summer are typically birds from populations further south who have wandered north following their breeding season. I’ve seen them here at the Museum in June, August, and September, which jives with the post breeding dispersal idea. But, I’ve also seen them here in November, December, and January.

Great egret.

The late fall and winter dates for sightings of great egret seem to indicate that those birds may have lingered in our area longer than they might have intended to. Although great egrets are commonly seen on our local reservoirs during the proper seasons they are not regulars here at the Museum. In my nine years of walking the paths and trails of the Museum I’ve seen four great egrets in the wetlands and one flyover.

Green heron is a local breeder. They usually arrive in our wetlands in April and depart by the end of September. A single bird paid a brief visit to our wetlands on January 30, 2014 but was gone the next day.

Green heron.

Both black-crowned and yellow-crowned night-herons are essentially coastal birds, although a few small colonies of yellow-crowned night-herons breed in or near Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. The only time I’ve seen either species here at the Museum was during spring. The yellow-crowned (May-June 2011) stayed for over a month while the black-crowned (May 2008) was only seen for a day or two.

Yellow-crowned night-heron molting into adult plumage.
Black-crowned night-heron (imm. plumage).

Both species were in immature plumage, the yellow-crowned molting into adult plumage. I had hopes for our yellow-crowned visitor returning the following spring, with friends, to breed. On the coast, yellow-crowned night-herons feed heavily on crabs. Crabs are not unlike crayfish. We have crayfish aplenty in our wetlands. The heron did not return.

It’s possible that other species of heron or egret may be added to the list of species seen here at the Museum. Snowy egret, tricolored heron, even little blue heron are certainly candidates. I don’t expect to see these species, but that’s the fun part, you never know what’s going to show up. I’ll be sure to let you know if and when they do stop by.

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