Bird of the Week: Black-crowned Night Heron

The Black-crowned Night Heron is a bird so nice, they named it twice: Nycticorax nycticorax. In spite of this binomial insistence, it is not a “night crow” but a member of the heron family, though its short legs and neck give it a markedly different appearance from its leggy cousins, the true herons and egrets. Like a few other species of heron, these birds are known to “fish” for their prey with small objects that they toss on the water’s surface, ambushing any fish hungry or curious enough to investigate. The Black-crowned Night Heron is a cosmopolitan species, found from Patagonia to Hokkaido. One place from which it is conspicuously absent, however, is the island of Britain, though archaeological evidence suggests that the exodus may have been comparatively recent. Medieval poulterers list the bird as a Brewe, from the French “bihoreau” (heron), suggesting that the birds once bred in the British Isles (and also suggesting that tastes in poultry have changed a great deal since the Middle Ages). Medieval appetites for waterfowl probably extirpated the Black-crowned Night Heron by the 16th Century, since which time it has not seen fit to return. In central Texas, almost any body of water may host a group of these gregarious birds.

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.
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