Night Herons at Noon

I’ve always found the idea of night herons mysterious, imagining I would have to go out in the gloaming or on a moonlit night to catch a glimpse of one of these intriguing creatures.  Not so, at least as far as the Black-crowned night heron is concerned.  Nycticorax nycticorax, to use the Black-crowned night heron’s marvelous Latin name, is found across much of North America.  I saw members of the species this spring and summer in both Dallas, Texas and New York City.  And, despite what the field guides say about the birds being active after dusk, these night herons were going about their business in  broad daylight.

One bright day in May, I saw several of the stocky little herons, hunting from the island in the little pond of NYC’s Morningside Park.

Here is a gorgeous adult bird. Note the long white feather reaching down its back, part of its spring breeding plumage.  Its legs are yellow, although they may turn pink at the height of the breeding season.

Nearby stood a juvenile in drab, streaky feathers and yellow legs.

A third bird seemed to be somewhere in between juvenile and adult with the colors of an adult but without the striking color-contrast.

Apparently, night herons don’t acquire their full adult plumage until the third year.  So here in this highly urban park with its postage stamp-sized pond, we have a first year, second year and third year (or later) bird.  Amazing.

A family of Canada geese, with the usual darling ducklings, also enjoyed the park.

At the end of June, I visited lovely Lakeside Park in Dallas.  It was midday and over 100 degrees (the start of what would be a seemingly endless succession of 100-plus-degree days for Texas), which may explain the paucity of birds and animals.  I had the park to myself.  The only visible members of my own species were tooling about in closed automobiles with the ac cranked.

Many large nest boxes had appeared since I last wandered Lakeside’s almost alarmingly green paths.

Who are these boxes built for? Anyone know?

A fox squirrel, far more timid than his NYC Eastern gray cousins, dashed up a tree and gave me the evil eye

Panting Great-tailed grackles were the only birds on the lawn

Birds pant to cool themselves.  It’s effective, but they need to replenish the water they lose. Luckily, Lakeside Park really is by the side of a tiny lake.  There, huge lily pads created a solid green field that reached quite a ways out into the water.

I saw none of the usual egrets, ducks or cormorants.  But at the base of the spillway, I spied an interesting shape.

Look to the left of the dry section below.

It was a Black-crowned night heron, patiently hunting from a relatively cool damp spot

Stunning birds.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2011, Birds, In the City, June, May, Morningside Park, NYC Parks, October, Seasons, Spring, Wildlife/Natural History

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9 Comments on “Night Herons at Noon”


  1. […] if I went looking for them.  Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, you name the wader and there’s a good chance Dallas has it. Even, to my own surprise, Wood […]

  2. Charlotte Says:

    Lovely post! great pics of those nocturnal (?) birds…

  3. CGJ Says:

    I need to pay this Lakeside Park a visit. Its officially on my agenda!


    • It’s a long narrow park in Highland Park with huge mansions along both sides & a golf course at one end. Part of the park follows Turtle Creek, and part is dammed to create the little lake. Usually plenty of ducks looking for hand-outs, but also egrets & occasionally other interesting birds.

  4. Barbara Says:

    I have a similar box on my property. It is designed for owls, and while a screech owl investigated it, it’s been used by kestrel pair which mated and produced about 5 young but never returned since one of my dogs decided to hunt under the nest box… The female would scream at him and when she moved to another field and saw him would set up the same screaming. Unfortunately starlings now use the box, but I haven’t had the heart to evict them once the nest is established. So perhaps someone is trying to attract screech owls, sawhets or other tiny ones.

    Wonderful photographs – and I too was always surprised to see black capped night herons in the broad daylight – hunting in Toronto’s harbour.


    • Could be owls. Rebecca suggests wood ducks as another possibility. I really don’t know.

      What a thrill it must have been to have kestrels nesting in your box! And very interesting that you’ve seen the same night herons in daytime in Toronto. Maybe it’s a city bird thing. I wonder …

  5. Rebecca Says:

    Those look kinda like wood duck boxes… were they near water? Screech owls also use boxes like that.


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