Rare night heron seen near river

Poor weather can be a very exciting thing for birders who don’t mind dealing with the adverse conditions. It’s a great time to look for rare birds.

Such conditions presented themselves on Oct. 29. Rose Valley Lake usually attracts the most attention during storms, so my day began there. A long-tailed duck and a few Bonaparte’s gulls provided some nice sightings, but not the rarity for which I was hoping.

Next stop: the river. After checking a few boat launches without much luck, I ended up at the Susquehanna River Walk. After scanning unsuccessfully for a few minutes, I walked upstream past the dam and noticed a brown, streaky heron at the edge of the water.

I quickly realized that I was looking at a juvenile night heron. There are two species of night heron in the U.S., yellow-crowned and black-crowned, which look pretty similar as young birds.

The yellow base of the bill and fairly large white spots on the wings confirmed the bird as a black-crowned night heron, the first one reported in Lycoming County in almost 10 years. That previous record was from a private pond in the Williamsport area.

Black-crowned night herons get their name from their adult plumage, which features a light-gray body with black back and cap.

As the name would suggest, night herons are mostly nocturnal and commonly roost in trees or shrubs near water during the day. At night, they typically will feed alone, with their diet consisting mostly of fish.

They are a medium-sized heron, with a length of about 2 feet and a wingspan of a little more than 3 1/2 feet.

That makes them larger than green herons but noticeably smaller than great blue herons, which are our two most common herons. Unlike most wading birds, black-crowned night herons rarely extend their necks.

The species breeds across much of the U.S. but generally is absent along the Appalachian Mountains. Worldwide, they can be found in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, making them the most widespread heron species. They typically nest in colonies, like many herons.

In Pennsylvania, the species is most common in the southeastern area of the state. They probably are somewhat regular visitors to the local area in very small numbers, but their habits make them less conspicuous than many related species, leading to very few records.

Much of fall migration is past, but rare birds do tend to show up in November. Waterfowl still are migrating through, and raptor flights on cold and windy November days can feature many eagles, both bald and golden, along with a parade of red-tailed hawks. Rare hummingbirds from out West also can show up this time of year. So, don’t let the colder weather stop you from enjoying the birds.


Brown is an avid birder, an active member of the Lycoming Audubon Society and the Lycoming County compiler for the “Pennsylvania Birds” quarterly journal.

The Lycoming Audubon Society is a chapter of the National Audubon Society with responsibility for members in Lycoming and Clinton counties. Information about the society and events can be found at http://lycomingaudubon. blogspot.com.

The public is invited to share local sightings and join discussions at https://www.facebook.com/groups/lycomingAudubon.