The Yellow Crowned Night Heron

in the order of Ciconiiformes is the Nyctanassa vidacea

A very rare and elusive bird. To find this bird, like any bird, it's necessary to understand what its life is like. When and where it will be is predictable, but sometimes it's just luck. The sun going down and coming up sets a timetable of activity; high tide and low tide can provide for many a time to eat or a time to build nests. A full moon or no moon give opportunity to hunt or a window for sleeping. The newspaper prints tide tables as well as moon and sun schedules. This can be an important tool for the birdwatcher who wants to see a specific type of bird or a particular kind of activity.

The Yellow Crowned Night Heron is a difficult one to see. It's called a night heron because of its nocturnal habits. It likes a cool sleeping spot and nesting over still water. It seems to pick dark shade deep in the savanna woods at lagoon's edge or in a gallery of trees that stand in water.

It lays pale blue-green eggs in a platform of sticks with a depression in the center that's lined with leaves . . . not easy to visit as it seems to prefer branches that protrude over water. Watch for crocodiles!

This night heron has a truly unusual appearance. It looks a little like a Boat Billed Heron in that it's short and stocky for a heron with big eyes.

I was ready to do anything to see this heron and was preparing for the extreme. In Tennessee where I hail from, hunting deer, raccoon, possum or anything was illegal if you used a spotlight and hunted at night, but very productive!

The game warden worked another part of the forest than where I hunted because of the donut shop's proximity, so I got some experience.

I was just wondering where I left the battery cable to my spotlight for this obtrusive technique when a northerner hit the island, lots of gray, thick clouds and a cool wind blowing from the lagoon to the front beach shallows.

This condition must have given an opportunity for this unusual heron to hunt its favorite meal of crabs in the front of the island.

It was 6:30 a.m. in a gray mist of rain as I passed the old, rusty barge permanently beached at Tres Cocos. I poled in with my motor off and steadied my binoculars for a treat. Thank goodness I left Bubba at home today!

The bird's iris is a rich, reddish orange and its bill is thick and shaped like a spear point, not as wide and blunt as a Boat Billed, but unlike any other heron I had ever seen.

It has a yellow crown, of course, and it swept back to a point behind its black head. A patch of white on each side of its head seemed to flow from the eyes, lower front corner to the back of its head, I suppose to assist its vision over reflective water.

Its body color is a powder blue instead of the gray I had read about.

Each feather of its folded wings was lined in white. It must be in its breeding season because it had long, white occipital plumes protruding from its nape. Its legs were a yellowish green and was standing in water about 2 or 3 inches deep, snatching small coral blue crabs. It threw them down its throat in a typical heron manner. I've got a few more herons on my list that I hope to find on the island. I hope they are this beautiful and easy to find.

Birds of Ambergris Caye

This page, and all contents, are Copyright © Elbert Greer