One Last Neighbor ~ The Night Shift Worker

My black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

In apartment complexes without assigned parking, finding an empty spot isn’t always easy. I thought it odd that two spaces convenient to my new apartment never were occupied, but I was pleased.

Then, I took a better look at the concrete in those spaces. Lying beneath a large live oak planted at the edge of the parking lot, they were spattered with what appeared to be white paint. Clearly, a bird was parking just above those spaces, and given the size of the splotches of excreted waste, it probably was a heron.

I began parking elsewhere, and spent a few days scanning the tree to see if I could find the bird. Eventually, I spotted it: an adult black-crowned night heron so well-hidden that a casual observer never would find it. Two days later, it had chosen a different branch, and I was able to snap a few photos.

These short, stocky birds usually are seen in profile, at the edge of the marshes and waterways where they hunt. Shooting up at the bird provided a new and utterly charming way of seeing it. In particular, its face seemed rotund, and a little chubby; I couldn’t help laughing, even as I admired its decorative white head plumes.

Eventually, the bird allowed a bit of a profile shot, showing off its thick, ready-for-serious hunting bill and a hint of the solid black back that matches its crown.

Although it watched me as I moved around, searching for better vantage points, it never left its branch, and never showed any sign of feeling threatened. Eventually it turned away slightly, gave me one last, coy glance, and then tucked its head into its feathers, ready for a nap before the evening’s hunt.

 

Comments always are welcome.

85 thoughts on “One Last Neighbor ~ The Night Shift Worker

  1. How lucky you are to have such a delightful bird as a neighbor. All nice images but the second and fourth do express chubbiness and also a bit of penguin as well.
    Maybe a silicone wax polish would make all the bird poop just slide right off and you’d have your own private space.

    1. I love these herons. The yellow-crowned night herons are more familiar to most people, because they’re out and about during the day, even hunting for crawfish alongside the roads. These roost in the trees during the day, and generally don’t come out until sunset. I used to hear them at my old apartment when the windows were open. They like to fish from the boats’ dock lines, and if someone disturbs them, you know it — they squawk as they fly.

      I’d not noticed the resemblance to penguins, but you’re right; it’s there. As for tempting fate with the polish, I’ll pass. It doesn’t hurt me one bit to park a few spaces down and avoid the hassle.

    1. This bird’s so widely distributed, I wondered if it might have made it to Australia or New Zealand, but it hasn’t. It does range all the way down to Patagonia, though. It’s a year-round resident here, and it is a striking bird, with that beautiful white/gray/black combination.

  2. Lovely bird and it seems happy to be in that tree and not too worried about the possibility of cars parked beneath his toilet. How convenient near your place too, Linda. Great photos. I would offer it some nice food. The bird was a good model.

    1. I’d be happy to offer it a snack, but I’m a little short on crawfish and frogs just now, and I suspect it would prefer its herring (which I do have) to be un-pickled. No worries, though. I’m sure it’s one of the group that hangs out at the marina here, or perhaps in the bayous threading though the land, and there’s no shortage of food for it.

      They use live oaks as roosting spots quite often. The foliage is so thick they’re safe from threats from above as well as from below, and they can sleep in peace. I look for it every time I come home now. Sometimes I see it, and sometimes I don’t. It may visit different roosts, but I suspect it’s just too well hidden for me to find it.

  3. It’s a great bird, Linda, and it is cosmopolitan. I have seen this species on four continents. It has departed our latitudes now but will return in the spring and is a successful local breeder. I chuckled at the comment above about offering it some nice food. Better catch some fish and find some juicy frogs, maybe even a crayfish or two as appetizers. At least you’ll know what the deposit on the car is made of!

    1. We’re lucky to have it with us throughout the year. I’d never looked at a distribution map, and was surprised to see how far-flung the species is. This one certainly has quite a buffet available to it. Not only are there fish and shrimp galore in the nearby marina where herons of various sorts fish, we have plenty of crawfish, even in the lawns. Every now and then a flock of ibis will come by and march across the grass, probing for grubs, grasshoppers, and crawfish. It’s backyard birding with a twist!

    1. I got such a kick out of these photos. These birds are short and stocky, and often sit all hunched up, but I’ve never had the chance to see one’s face from this direction, and it just cracked me up. There’s no question he’s been eating well. It may not be summertime, but the livin’s pretty easy for birds that eat fish. The waters are full of them.

    1. There is good hunting for this guy: fish in the marinas and bayous, and crawfish aplenty in the mud. I suppose there are some frogs around, too, but I think he’d have to travel a little to find them. In any event, he’s got a short commute to his ‘workplace’!

    1. I’d put up with the red dots to have the waxwings around. I’ve only seen them here twice, for about three days each visit. They cleaned out the dates on the palm trees once, and seemed to be feeding on untrimmed crepe myrtles another time. What I hate are the starlings and grackles that find the mulberries in spring. I always know when the fruit’s in season because of the purple splotches all over the white fiberglass boats. They’re not as bad as the fish entrails the ospreys drop from the top of the mast, but they certainly do annoy people whose job it is to keep the fiberglass clean.

    1. Thank you, Lavinia. These always have been among my favorite birds, but I’ve never seen one in quite this way. Even when I see one in the trees, it’s usually obscured by branches. This was a great opportunity.

    1. I had to wait until late afternoon to try for some photos, as there wasn’t enough light inside the branches in the morning, and shooting up into the sky at midday wasn’t at all satisfactory. Even so, the sun was almost behind a building across the parking lot when I took these, and the light was so golden I had to tone it down a little to prove the bird is white and not yellow!

    1. My telephoto lens justified its cost once again, Pit. The last photo was taken at 160mm, but the rest all are between 225mm and 300mm. Between the breeze and camera shake, they’re not quite as sharp as I’d like, but I figured there was no telling when I’d get a better chance than this. I might, but at least I have these.

  4. Your statement that “these short, stocky birds usually are seen in profile” raised questions in my mathematical mind. It seems likely that your location when you first see one of these birds is random, and that the angle at which the bird is facing is likewise random. If those assumptions are true, then over many encounters wouldn’t you be as likely to see the bird facing in any direction as in any other direction? Of course it could be easier to see a bird in profile because it covers a wider field of view when turned sideways than when facing toward you or away from you. For that reason, perhaps on some of the occasions when a bird is there and facing toward you or away from you you just don’t notice it. That would account for why you more often notice a bird in profile.

    1. That certainly gave me something to ponder.

      It occurs to me that my observations aren’t quite so random. For example, I usually discover these herons perched on a line, looking down into the water, or at the water’s edge, intent on their prey. Even if I find one on land, approaching these birds from the front causes them to fly and the view from behind isn’t very interesting, so there’s a predisposition toward the profile view to start with.

      What really surprised me is that an image search for ‘black-crowned night heron’ resulted in nearly every photo being a profile of some sort or another. When I searched for black-crowned night heron ‘face,’ ‘frontal view,’ ‘in tree,’ or ‘perching,’ profile views predominated.

      Of course, it was elevation that dictated a different view here. In these close and branch-crowded quarters, with the heron about 20 feet above me, getting a good profile view of the entire bird was impossible.

      All of this suggests that a combination of factors, including the bird’s behavior and photographers’ preferences, have resulted in a predominance of profiles in black-crowned night heron photos. Beyond that, I didn’t find any photos similar to these online. Now, I like them even more.

  5. What a glorious bird! No wonder no one parked there — you were smart to figure that one out! I love the “coy” shot and the front views are so unusual. It’s just stunning — what a fine neighbor! (So long as you cover your car!)

    1. No car covering for me. One of the great advantages of no assigned parking is that I’m not forced to park beneath my little friend. That wouldn’t have pleased me one bit. I really like that ‘coy’ photo, too. It didn’t occur to me until this very minute that those closeups of its face might come close to what a baby heron sees in the nest. That’s an intriguing thought!

    1. There are neighborhoods not so far away where large groups of egrets and herons nest, and believe me — there’s been enough news about “all that white stuff” that nearly everyone knows what it is, and is on the lookout for it. A few little splotches are an interesting clue. More that than, and the perceived cuteness of the birds begins to fade!

    1. Now that I have these photos, I give an occasional glance to see if he’s there, but I’ve stopped standing around and watching him. I suspect most of my human neighbors assume the droppings are from casual visitors, rather than a semi-permanent resident.There are people who aren’t so fond of the birds, and I wouldn’t want him harassed.

  6. How I’ve loved getting to meet your new neighbors!! This one’s a real keeper — love his coloring. And you’ve got some great shots that give us insight into his character. That final one of him peeking from behind his feathers made me laugh out loud — it’s almost like Mr. Heron wanted you to catch him in a variety of poses so you could share them here!

    1. I thought the same thing, Debbie. I was surprised by the variety of poses I captured, given the limitations of the situation. The most amusing experience I’ve had with him took place last week. I stopped to look for him in the branches, and found him pretty quickly. His eyes were closed, as though he was asleep. Eventually, he opened one eye, looked at me for about ten seconds, then closed his eye again and went back to drowsing. It was almost as though he was thinking, “Oh. It’s her again.”

    1. Just as I hadn’t seen the penguin that a couple of readers saw, I hadn’t seen those sweet-stuffed cheeks — but now I do! Who doesn’t remember stuffing the rest of that stolen cookie into her mouth as mother rounds the corner, asking, “Did you take another cookie?” No, of course not.

      Here’s part of a transcript from an short Audubon audio about that poo:

      “Why is most of the bird poop we see white? The answer lies in the fact that birds, unlike mammals, don’t produce urine. Instead they excrete nitrogenous wastes in the form of uric acid, which emerges as a white paste. And uric acid doesn’t dissolve in water easily. Hence its ability to stick to your windshield like blobs of white plaster.

      It appears that drivers of some cars might be asking for trouble. A study in England found that red cars are most likely to be the target of bird droppings, followed by blue and black. Green was the least likely. So be careful where you park. And give that red Mustang a wide berth.”

      Gulls are the worst around here, since they’ll ‘let fly’ while they’re in flight. No one is safe!

    1. Wouldn’t he make a great stuffed toy for your lil’ urchin? Someone said he resembled a penguin, but now I’ve thought there’s just a slight resemblance to a puffin, too — at least in those puffed out “cheeks.” It makes me happy to know he’s out there. It would be really interesting for a nest to get built in that tree, although somewhere a little more isolated probably would be good.

  7. This is so interesting that you are able see all sorts of birds and animals. These pics have been so interesting because getting them was relatively easy- just step out of your apartment and make sure to have a camera in hand. This little bird is just plum cute with its round, chubby looking face. That pic is one for the books.

    1. People always are talking about eco-regions, and I’m beginning to think that my move — across two small parking areas, a median, and a bit of lawn — actually has brought me into a different ‘region.’

      I’ve seen only one lizard here, and there were dozens, if not more, where I lived before. It may be seasonal, but it also may be that they thrived at my old place because of the rock walls that lined the sidewalks there; it was warmer. Here, there’s a good bit of water that stands, so the cypress knees and crawfish chimneys are around. The best news is that I’ve yet to see a single pigeon here. I’m knocking on wood right now that they stay on the other side of the complex.

      I love this heron. I think he’s cute as can be, and every time I see him I tell him so!

    1. You of all people know what it is to be dismissed. Instead of a paw wave, I get a wing wave.

      I really was surprised to see how different the bird appears when seen from this angle. I mentioned to someone else that that face probably is close to what a heron nestling sees when mom or dad arrives to bring food and check things out. It is an appealing face, that’s for sure. They look so svelte when fishing along the bayous and ditches, but this one looks like it still has its baby fat.

  8. Your photos of the heron are superb. Beautiful focus.

    What a treat to find a heron so close to home. Especially such a handsome chap. I’d park elsewhere any day to have an avian resident for daily observation purposes.

    (Actually, come to think of it, I did have a white-faced heron sitting on the fence at the top of the 40-foot cliff-face on the other side of my road once).

    I love the way they bury their head into their chest feathers in the last image. I have a similar Nankeen Night Heron image from one winter of the bird doing exactly the same thing.

    Thanks for sharing, Linda. I really do have a fondness for herons.

    1. There’s something so appealing about the way birds tuck their heads into their wings: perhaps because it’s a sign that they’re feeling secure. When we’re able to witness it, we know we’re not being experienced as a threat, and that’s good.

      I’m sure I’ve seen a white-faced heron on your blog. It might not have been the one on the cliff face, but I do remember looking up the species and thinking how closely it resembles our great blue heron — except for that face, of course.

      Eventually, I hope to get some good photos of the chickadees that are coming to the feeder now. I didn’t think you have chickadees, but when I looked to confirm it, I was surprised to find articles comparing them to your red-backed fairy wren! It was fun to read about those, especially after being introduced to your fairy-wrens.

    1. Because these photos were taken in late afternoon, the feathers appear a little more golden than they actually are; it’s the warm sunlight at work. Still, they aren’t as starkly black and white as they sometime appear; those chestnut and blue-gray shades are there.

  9. Regarding the bird poop, I’m thinking of an artist who would leave a blank canvas out in the orchard on the ground, for creatures to leave their marks on, sometimes aided by used coffèe grounds. Then she’d complete the picture, they were very nice. Could you do a similar thing in your area?
    Or has the heat this summer addled my brain?

    1. Hmmm… Whether the heat’s addled your brain, I can’t say, but I can pretty much guarantee that I’m not going to be hauling out the canvases for any critter art! On the other hand, there is a tradition around here that makes use of cows, chickens, and such for entertainment. Behold: Chicken **** Bingo. The combination of beer, good music, summer heat, and chickens was part of my introduction to Texas culture back in the ’70s, and believe me — I’ve never forgotten it.

    1. It’s just one more bit of proof (as if we needed it) that the world is filled with things to experience. Even the most ordinary, like a bird perched in a tree (or a praying mantis!) can be worthy of loving attention.

  10. Such pretty pictures! We have black crowned night herons here, not as fluffy and chubby as yours, I think. Fun times ahead with all your interesting neighbour, Linda!

    1. This is one of the most widely-distributed birds in the world, and it seems that we share the species. This photo from Kerala shows one posed in the way I normally see them. The one in this post looks somewhat different because of the angle of the photos. It was the shooting upward that produced that quite different, and entirely appealing, view of the bird.

    1. These birds are short and stocky to begin with, and when they scrunch down, as they’re wont to do, they make quite a neat little feathery package. The yellow-crowned night heron is much more slender, although not much taller. Like the egrets, it’s also given to being out and about during the day, even in high traffic areas like roadside ditches.

    1. He really is a sweetie. I looked for him today in all the rain, but he wasn’t in his tree. He might even have been out fishing. Sometimes they’ll come out in the daytime if it’s really gray and gloomy, and that certainly described our day.

    1. I had a couple of too-fuzzy-to-publish photos of him with one eye completely closed and one half open. Not much gets past that fellow. It’s fun to watch the same phenomenon with the alligators. One can appear to be snoozing in the sun, but there’s a certain point at which one eye opens, and you know that reptilian brain is registering your presence.

        1. I’ll confess I’m reluctant to go kayaking down here, just because of the number of gators I’ve seen in the waters — they’re more of a nuisance to wade fishermen with stringers attached, but still… They are interesting creatures, though, and the mothers are fiercely protective.

  11. A handsome bird and great photos Linda. And I chuckled. When I went up to get our van out of the pole barn to take it into Jackson RV today for some repair work, the window was well decorated with bird poop, very large bird poop from a very large bird! Now I have to do some detective work…

    1. Well, hello, stranger! I’ve been wondering when you’d surface again after all your holiday travels. It’s good to see you — Happy New Year to you and Peggy. I’ll be interested to hear what you discover about the identify of your ‘friend.’ I’m not sure what you have around there in bird terms, but I have confidence you’ll figure it out.

      1. Thanks, Linda. 5000 miles by train, visiting kids in Virginia and Florida, and contacting a three-week long nasty cold that still keeps me awake, took me away from the Internet! Happy New Year to you as well.
        I spent ten minutes cleaning my windows off. You can bet I am going to find the culprit, if it hasn’t already ‘flown the coop,’ so to speak. –Curt

        1. Let’s hope it was just visiting, and not preparing to settle in for the duration. Of course, if I were a bird and had a choice between a tree and a pole barn, I’d probably take the barn, too.

    1. It’s an unusual perspective, for sure. Not many people seem to have had the chance to photograph these from below. The apparent chubbiness is quite a contrast to their usual, sleeker appearance.

  12. I’m so glad you have it as a neighbor. They are nocturnal, but I also saw them foraging for food at early dawn (astronomical & nautical). They do have white head plumes when breeding, which are not easily seen, but I was once able to photograph them.
    I was reading the black-crowned is found worldwide, whereas its cousin ‘the yellow-crowned night heron’ is found exclusively in the Americas.

    1. They’ll occasionally come out during the day if it’s dim, with plenty of clouds, but you’re right that they’ll begin flying or return to their roosts at twilight. Some of these photos show the plumes, but the best image of the plumes was otherwise unsatisfactory, so I didn’t post it. Some sites describe them as having two plumes, but ‘two or more’ is the better description. This one has three.

      Another reader mentioned their cosmopolitan distribution. He travels a good bit for birding, and has seen these on three continents — what a thrill that would be.

  13. Interesting looking critter. Although you’ve mentioned they have a wide range, I don’t think we’ve got them up here. Cool to have one nearly in your backyard.

    1. In fact, they’re pretty close to you. This Cornell map shows them in your area, both breeding and migrating, even though they aren’t year-round residents except in the southern part of your state. Still, if you’re around the water, you might well see one.

      These photos are a little odd because of shooting upward — it’s usually appears as a sleeker, if equally compact bird. Still, I love this portrayal of it as a sweet and chubby little thing.

    1. I’d be surprised if you haven’t, actually. Here’s what the heron looks like in a more normal pose. Because I was shooting upward, he ended up looking chubbier and chinnier than usual. It’s an adorable pose, and one I couldn’t find on any online site, even though I combed them pretty well. Sometimes a less than perfect situation yields a set of interesting images.

  14. That is a lovely series of portraits, and quite ‘atypical’ of how I usually see these herons! They often loitered (lurked) in the scrubby area near Casa Loca – but they never allowed such personal glimpses as these!

    The Black-crowned \Night Herons at Poza Honda are much more skittish, though there is one that seems to fish day and night – but never in close range for easy photos!

    I give you a TEN!

  15. Wow, amazing photos! I love these birds – I think I’ve told you that before – but I’ve certainly never seen them from these perspectives. We lived in an apartment complex when we first moved out to Washington and spaces weren’t assigned. Then things got crazy and they had to assign spaces. It was evidence of the growing pressure on housing – the complex was always full and competition for a space closer to one’s apartment was fierce. There were a few spaces that weeped white – but it was seasonal and it was sticky – it was tree sap that never came off a car’s paint. No herons in those tres though! We did have a resident BCN heron at the Staten Island ferry dock and it certainly wasn’t bothered by all the comings a goings. These photos are treasures – I hope you prints and frame a few.

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