BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS – NOCTURNAL FISHING WITH STRIATED HERONS

“In the last couple of years, I have sporadically sighted individual Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) dozing off as they perched upon mature trees as their daytime roosts close to the Telok Kurau canal (left). Their presence was often betrayed by the extensive white splatters of faeces immediately below them. I have vivid recollections of one occasion when the front windscreen of my car was entirely decorated by digested fish, thanks to a night heron overhead. The sight and smell was simply unforgettable!

“On certain evenings, I also had fleeting glimpses of the night heron awaking from its slumber and perching upon high branches or cables to scan the prospective waters below. One fine night in April 2011, my curiosity stirred within me with an indescribable ferocity and I found myself gravitating towards the darkness of this suburban waterway. As I allowed my eyes to adjust to the black waters, my heart began beating faster as I traced the outline of what must certainly be a night heron, standing alone and still in the shady shallows. After careful observations, I realised that this individual was a young adult, as it still retained faint brown streaks on its neck and breast, remnants of its prior juvenile plumage (below left).

“Further up this waterway, my eye spied the silhouette of yet another night heron. This time it was a mature adult, complete with elongate, white nape-plumes. Within a short span of time, this night heron lunged repeatedly into the dim waters and succeeded in catching a healthy number of small fish, including a juvenile catfish (above right).

“While quietly admiring the night heron hunt in the dark, I began to feel an increasing affinity with this bird as it dawned upon me that we both share similar preferences for: (1) staying up all night and sleeping by day, (2) not hesitating to get our feet wet, and (3) consuming fish as a major constituent of our diet. As I continued prowling along this waterway in search of other night herons, I realised that another avian companion was engaged in nocturnal fishing as well! At least two Striated Herons (Butorides striatus) were patiently waiting by the water’s edge and lunging at any fish that came within striking distance (below left). These smaller herons are often seen fishing along this stretch by day, but I never imagined that they would be so adaptable and capable of seeing under such low light conditions. I suppose even common species can sometimes surprise us with a new trick up their sleeve.

“My nocturnal encounters with the local night herons reminded me of an earlier diurnal encounter with the same species many miles away. In June 2007, I saw these birds in broad daylight near Lake Michigan during my stay in Chicago, Illinois, USA (above right). Subsequently, I learnt that the Black-crowned Night Heron actually has a vast, almost world-wide distribution. Hence, I am certain that many birdwatchers and naturalists on this planet can continue to share the joys of observing this water-loving, fish-eating species.”

Dr Leong Tzi Ming
Singapore
3rd May 2011

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