Bird of the Week

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    Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

    This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the black-crowned night heron.

    There is no need to be an early birder to catch this bird in action. It’s scientific name, nycticorax, meaning “night raven,” is both a reference to this heron’s feeding habits and to its raven-like call. Employing a strategy that reduces competition with other herons and egrets, the night heron does most of its feeding at night, and evening and dusk are good times to see one in the open.

    They feed standing still at the water’s edge or in the shallows, waiting to strike at prey. They may shake their bill tips in the water, causing ripples which attract feeding fish. Black-crowned night-herons are opportunistic feeders, eating leeches, earthworms, insects, fish, snakes, rodents, birds, carrion, garbage — almost anything that crosses their paths.

    Appearing stout and short-necked, during the day these birds sit hunched and motionless in trees near water or hidden within wetland vegetation. They are the most widespread heron in the world, breeding on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Social birds, they nest in colonies, often with other herons, egrets or ibises.

    In breeding plumage, this beautiful heron has a black crown and back, white throat and underparts, a straight thick bill and bright red eyes. Thin, long, white plumes extend from the back of its head. Juveniles are well camouflaged in streaky brown tones.

    Many local wetland areas, which birds like this one rely on, have very low water levels this year. Water conservation is extremely important in the drought-stricken southwest.

    For information on activities, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudbon/.