The Difference a Year Makes

Spring 2019 ushers in my second season of birding, an unexpected hobby I dove passionately into. It also signifies the return of the black-crowned night-herons to my local pond.

Last year, one of my favourite and surprisingly frequent sightings was the black-crowned night-heron. As I visited the pond every week, I would find this chunky heron hunched up in the same few trees, waiting for the sun to set to begin hunting.

Immature black-crowned night-heron – likely less than 2 years old

As the season went on, I learned how to recognize their “wok” call as they flew overhead. When summer began to fade, I noticed that the flock had increased in size, but with almost an entirely different looking bird.

Juvenile black-crowned night-heron

Like many birds, the juvenile black-crowned night-heron has completely different plumage. So different that they might be mistaken for another bird. In two to three years this bird will lose its brown plumage and grow into the white and black of adulthood. Its yellow/orange iris will become red and its beak will become uniformly black.

Adult with black beak, red irises, and long breeding plumes

This returning night-heron is an adult displaying white breeding plumes, trailing from its head. Its red eyes are shocking and vibrant against downy white feathers. Hopefully, this awkward, yet beautiful bird will be lucky and find a mate and I’ll get to see more juveniles poking around the pond at the end of summer.

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