The tale of two herons

The tricolor heron (Egretta tricolor) is a part-time Maryland resident that generally nests in the Gulf States and the lower Atlantic. It was formerly known as the Louisiana heron. This bird stays mainly near coastal areas and does occasionally winter in Maryland.

The tricolor heron is a mid-size, slender bird with a dark blue back, a white breast and a rust-colored neck. It breeds in colonies and can often be found in conjunction with the little blue heron and snowy egret. Tricolors feed mainly on larger fish and have a more specialized diet, often traveling to find its favorite dishes. This habit of eating larger game helps this bird to survive in conjunction with the little blue heron and snowy egret, which are more successful at finding food.

Both the male and female tricolor heron build the nest and incubate the eggs. When startled, the tricolor heron will stand rigid and point its bill skyward. This defense mechanism might make the bird look like a patch of grass or reeds in a swampy environment.

The tricolored heron occasionally nests in Maryland.

Credit: National Park Service - Harry Engels

Yellow-crowned night heron

Another member of Maryland's resident and transient heron population is the yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea). This bird is a part-time resident of the state in small numbers, migrating to warmer locations during the winter.

It has a short stocky body with a wingspan of about 3 feet; a yellowish-white crown, a slate-blue body and a distinct black patch under its eye. This heron is not strictly nocturnal as its name suggests, being active day and night. It does prefer dense, thick brushy areas like forested wetlands or scrub/shrub thickets and marshes, but does nest closer to wooded neighborhoods than the black-crowned night heron.

The yellow-crowned night heron has a slow, steady flight with its legs dangling behind its body. It is an ambush hunter searching mainly for crustaceans like crabs, shrimp and crayfish.

This bird was heavily hunted for its feathers and meat and nearly became extinct as a result. Populations began to rebound once hunting ceased, and now it is fairly common throughout its range.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 2/12/2012