I Really Like to be in Southern Texas

by Dave Hanks

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

It’s pleasant in winter time, when temperatures are low.

This is the time of year when it’s best to go

To the Rio Grande Valley to enjoy the birdie show.

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

All sorts of perchers like these conditions too

Just put out some feed and they soon come into view.

They are there in abundance, and I will name a few:

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

To see Woodpeckers, Jays, Thrashers, and the Kiskadee;

Cardinals and Titmice, and an Oriole in a tree

And so many, many others, are there for you to see.

One gulf coast denizen is the Tri-Colored Heron. It is also known as the Louisiana Heron. They will be there stalking the shallows to catch and ingest almost anything that they can get down their gullet. This 26 inch tall bird inhabits the saline waters of the gulf’s marshes and mangrove swamps.

Audubon Oriole is another southern Texas joy to find, with its yellow body and black head and neck. Texas has more bird species than any other state in the union, and when we can take a trip there, it is always rewarding.

 

triheronp

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audubonoriolep

A Bright Eye and Plume amid the Greenery

I see it! It’s so quiet and creeping so stealthily through the shoreline vegetation that it could easily go undetected. The bold red eye and long white plume are what stands out. I wonder why its name has yellow in it, as I see none of that color. However, during the breeding season the white of the head is tinged with yellow. only to become white again. This small heron (2 feet tall) is impressive irregardless of its name.

The YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON lives in wooded swamps, fresh and salt water marshes, and thickets. It eats a diet of aquatic organisms, which occasionally includes small turtles. Its stomach secretes an acid that will dissolve the shells. Unlike other night herons, it is active both night and day. Also, unlike other herons, it prefers a solitary life style – both in its everyday activity and nesting behavior (others nest in rookeries).

Obviously it has been hunted, as its meat is reported to be excellent eating. When wounded it will defend itself vigorously with its claws and can inflict severe scratches. It is also quick to get out of the reach of the attacker. The Yellow-Crowned Night Heron is sensitive to environmental problems like oil slicks, because it hunts shorelines and tidal marshes when the tide is out.

We have its relatives: the Black-Crowned Night Heron and the American Bittern, but it is exciting to see a special bird like this one – especially because they are not available in our area!

Black Crowned Night Heron by Uncle David
Nyctanassa violacea

The Black-Crowned Night Heron

The fact that, besides fish, this heron feeds on other bird’s eggs makes it a prime target for harassment. This behavior forces it to forage mainly after dark when other species are sleeping – hence the name Night Heron. It will usually rest in good cover in the daytime. A very patient fisher, it will stand motionless for hours in shallow water or on the bank to ambush any fish that’s passing by. Its secretiveness makes it a difficult species to view. Any photos that we have of this bird are the result of luck.

This species is the most widespread heron in the world (on 5 continents). It is rather short and stocky for a heron – standing only 23 to 28 inches tall, with a 20 inch long body, and a 45 inch wing span. Red eyes, yellow legs, and a black bill are other field identification traits.

Nests are constructed in thickets and occasionally in trees and, like all herons, in a colony with other birds of its species. Males construct the nests, which are used year after year. Breeding season is heralded by the lengthening of head plumes and much preening of one’s mate. The bill is rubbed repeatedly over the partner’s head, neck, and back. Three to five eggs are laid each year and need a 24 to 26 day incubation period. Both birds will sit on the eggs. The young are fed regurgitated food, fledge at 6 to 7 weeks, and take three years to mature. Juvenile breasts are speckled, which make them easy to be mistaken as Bitterns.

Night Herons are being affected by loss of habitat. The reason: the habitat they favor is also great mosquito breeding grounds – hence the draining of wetlands. Market Lake and Camas Refuge, both north of Roberts, Idaho; along with the Bear River Refuge west of Brigham City, Utah are locations where you might see this

Black-Crowned Night Heron Feeling secure amid the foliage

Feeling secure amid the foliage