---Alice Abrams

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Bird That Goes "QUARK"

DESCRIPTION: The Black crowned night heron is a small long-legged wader, standing 23-28inches tall with a wingspan of 45 inches. The night heron has a heavy, chunky body, short thick neck, short legs and heavy, sharply pointed, black bill. The adult's head has a black cap with a fallen crest of 2-3 narrow white plumes at the back of their head. Their eyes are ruby red. They have a black back and white belly. Their wings and tail are grey and their legs and feet are usually yellow but turn quite red in the early part of the nesting season. The young or immature black crowned night herons are brown and streaked with white.

VOICE: another name for the night heron is the "quark bird" because the sound it utters as it flies through the night is "quark".

FEEDING: The black crowned night heron is an expert at "still fishing". It stands motionless for long periods in shallow water, on pilings at high tide and on floating docks watching and waiting for its prey. With a quick thrust of its bill into the water it catches small fish. The heron can swim well searching for food. It can also eat algae, but it mostly eats shad, herring, suckers, pickerel, and eels. In freshwater ponds it eats frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, garter snakes, toads, crayfish, mussels, dragonflies and their nymphs. The black crowned night heron heron is extremely adaptable; it eats whatever is most plentiful at the time and place. (and rats!)

As I've been skipping around through the blogs, I've noticed a lot of stories about wildlife and nature, so I thought I'd take you to our summer of the "Bird that Goes QUARK." Our previous home was located about 2-3 blocks from a couple of small lakes that provide a stopping place for a myriad of birds. We have spotted Ibis, the exotic looking long-neck bird familiar in Egypt; we have different types of egrets, herons, owls and hawks.

During the spring of the year we usually slept with our sliding glass door open for the fresh air. One night, as we were just drifting off to sleep, we heard this gosh-awful racket and it was obviously not man-made! It sounded like an animal in distress but all of ours were in the house and accounted for. And if one of ours was capable of making that sound, it was going bye-bye in the morning!

The noise kept up and we finally had to close the slider. During the next few days, we noticed these large birds flying around the neighborhood, and some were coming in at dusk to roost in our trees. Could that be the source of the noise? But aren't birds sleeping during the night? The noise kept up at night often enough that we found ourselves automatically half asleep dragging over to shut the door to keep out that awful screeching sound.

One day, my husband was mowing the lawn when he shut off the mower and called to me to come outside. He motioned over toward the shrubs that were under the largest tree in our yard and said, "Look," and pointed to a dead fish. He said, "You're not going to believe this, but there's dead frogs and fish all over the place!" He was right! There were at least 4 to 5 big toads and the same amount of fish (blue gill or carp). A strange find in a suburban backyard. Not only that, but some of the shrubs looked as if it might have snowed lightly! We may be city folk, but we were putting two and two together quickly. Something was fishing in the lakes and bringing it in to feed on.

A couple of days later, the dogs started barking and the cats starting running in and out of the doggie door. Something was outside so I went out to check. Good grief! I saw the weirdest looking bird running around the ground, flapping wings that weren't yet working, and they were huge! It's no wonder the cats didn't know whether to go after it or run like heck away from it! It looked like a pterodactyl! And it was coming my way!!! (The first photo is a juvenile - notice the beak...pointed little sucker)

I ran in the house, grabbed a towel, yelled for my husband and out we went. There it was - it's wings open as was his beak, scared to death. We got the dogs in the house - I think they were as glad as the bird! They'd never seen a bird with a wing span of approximately 36-45 inches! My husband gathered the towel and started towards him and of course, as he got close, the creature took off. I don't think there was a stretch of the yard the two of them didn't cover before W.B. managed to corner him in a big bush. He covered him with the towel, and gathered him gently, and at arms length, started carrying him towards the house. I said,

"Where are you taking him? The birds will be scared to death (our pet birds) and the cats are in there!" He replied, "We didn't think this through too well, did we!"

We ended up getting him into the garage into a huge carton - we'd purchased a large appliance - and called the vet's office. They referred us to the University which has a program for raptors. They weren't interested in our buddy but had us call our Living Museum which houses native species. We called them and they told us to bring it on out but to be very careful of it's beak; it's capable of piercing a skull. Gee!!! Thanks for the warning. Eeeek.

We took Dilbert on his very first and most likely, last car ride. At the museum, they took one look at him and gave us a run down on his species (as described above). Indeed, the racket we'd been hearing at night was the parents coming in to feed the babies. They're not named "NIGHT Flying Herons" for nothing. They only way we could keep them from coming back was to keep the tree trimmed very low. And Dilbert had a new home from which he could fly away when he was big enough.

During the course of the next few weeks, we had a few dead babies that fell out of the nest too soon, a few like Dilbert, who just needed to stretch their wings and learn to fly on their own, and we just made certain our critters were locked up when a baby was down. Truthfully, when their wings were spread they were so menacing in appearance, I don't believe our dogs or cats would've taken them on.

We found more "mystery meat" in the yard: rats hanging in the trees and on the ground, more fish, toads, lizards, small birds, field mice. W.B. said he was sick of having to rake up the dead vermin before he could mow the lawn and hose off our shrubs. In talking with our neighbors, who were also bothered by all of the nightly noise, they had lost their koi to the herons! At first they thought our neighborhood opossums had gotten them but had seen one of the babies dining at their pond!

We were so glad to see them leave the area when the last baby left the nest. We never figured out how many nests were in the trees but it had to be a bunch! When the tree lost it's leaves in the fall we did have it cut back as much as we dared, but one night in the early spring, as we were drifting off to sleep, "Quark!"


Berni said...

I know they can make a terrible racket. When we lived on Vancouver Island there was a group of trees that herons liked to nest in. The noise of the babies clapping their beaks together went on all day.

Sarge Charlie said...

Thank you for all the kind comments you left at my place....