BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN NEW YORK - HOFFMANN

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HERONS, ETC.: ORDER HERODIONES
[ORDER PELECANIFORMES]

HERONS AND BITTERNS: FAMILY ARDEIDÆ

Three species of Heron and two of Bittern occur in New York and New England. The American Bittern and the Green Heron breed everywhere in suitable localities; the Least Bittern is not uncommon in parts of southern New York and New England; the Night Heron is common along the sea-coast; the Great Blue Heron breeds in the wilder portions of northern New York and New England and occurs farther south as a migrant. The two species of Bittern live in extensive swampy meadows or cat-tail swamps, and depend on their coloration for protection; if startled, they fly to some other part of the grass or flags. The herons stand on the margins of shallow coves and pools, flying often to trees when startled. When flying they extend their legs behind them, but instead of stretching out their necks as ducks do, they shorten them by taking in a "tuck.” The Night Heron feeds largely after dusk.

[Nowadays there is a larger number of herons that can be seen in the region than the few described by Hoffmann. I don't know the reasons why but I imagine that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 has a lot to do with it, as with other birds like Oystercatchers or Black Skimmers.]



BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON. Nycticorax nycticorax novius
24.00 in.

Ad.— Crown and back black; wings and tail gray; forehead and under parts white. Im.— Upper parts, wings, and tail brown, streaked and dotted with white; under parts lighter, streaked with brown and white.

Nest, in trees. Eggs, pale bluish-green.

The Night Heron is a summer resident of New York and New England, common along the coast, but rare or absent in the interior; it occasionally winters in southern New England. It breeds in communities which occasionally number many hundred individuals. In feeds chiefly in shallow, tidal creeks; even if it breeds at some distance inland, it often flies at dusk to the salt marshes or to the beach. Its hoarse quok, almost like the bark of a dog, is therefore a very familiar sound along the coast. In the daytime it roosts in trees; in late summer flocks gather which sometimes reach into the hundreds. Though it feeds chiefly after dusk, yet it is occasionally seen in the daytime, either standing at the edge of small marshy pools or along the shore, or flapping heavily over the marshes.

Adults are easily identified by their white under parts, ash-gray wings and tail, and the black crown and upper back. The immature birds are brown, spotted with white or buffy. When seen flying at a distance it is difficult to identify them with certainty, until one becomes familiar with the characteristics of their flight, which is slow and heavy; the strokes are alternated with periods of sailing, during which the wings are curved slightly downward.

GREEN HERON. Butorides virescens
17.00 in.

Ad.— Top of head glossy greenish-black; wings, back, and tail greenish; the longer wing-feathers with a bluish tinge; sides of throat and neck chestnut; a narrow strip of black and white down the middle of the neck; under parts brownish-gray. Im.— Similar, but under parts white, streaked with brown.

Nest, of twigs, in trees. Eggs, pale green.

The Green Heron is a common summer resident of New York and New England, arriving late in April or early in May, and staying till October. It feeds in the marshy coves of rivers or ponds, or at the edges of swamps.

When startled it rises with a harsh quak, and after the legs have been picked up, and a tuck taken in the long neck, the broad wings take the bird off over the tree-tops or around a protecting bend of the shore. When in the air, it looks about the size of a crow, but flies with slower, heavier strokes and shows a shorter tail. When the bird lights, it is very apt to raise its head-feathers somewhat, giving its head a peculiar bushy appearance. Inland and south of Vermont and New Hampshire it is, in the summer, almost the only heron to be seen. As the train runs along a shallow river, like the Connecticut, individuals may be observed almost every mile, flying or standing.

The greenish or bluish-green color of the wings and its smaller size should distinguish it from the Night Heron. The green shows only as an iridescent color on the wings; the quill-feathers, and in old birds the back also, are bluish, so that many an amateur catching this color has jumped to the conclusion that he has seen the Little Blue Heron of the South. There is no danger of confusing the Green Heron with the Great Blue Heron, a bird that seems to the excited eye as tall as a man and as broad-winged as an eagle. The Bittern, the only other heron-like bird to be kept in mind, stiffens, when standing, into a vertical position, the bill pointing almost directly upward, and the black and ochre stripes showing clearly on the neck. The Bittern on the wing looks brown, and is much larger than a crow.


GREAT BLUE HERON. Ardea herodias
42.00 - 50.00 in. Bill 4.30 - 6.25 in.

Ad.— Crown black, divided by a broad white stripe; throat white; neck brown; back and tail gray; wings gray, broadly edged with black; breast and belly streaked with black and white. Im.— Top of head dusky; back browner.

Nest, in trees. Eggs, bluish-green.

The Great Blue Heron used to breed throughout New England, but it is now doubtful if there are any of its heronries left in southern New England. It is still a summer resident of the wilder portions of northern New York and New England, and a not uncommon migrant in April and May, and from the end of July till November. It is found at the edges of lakes and ponds, or on the broader reaches of rivers, and still more frequently in the salt marshes and on the sandy or rocky ocean beaches. When the bird is standing, its long legs and neck are very conspicuous, and its body seems ridiculously thin. It is ordinarily silent on migration, only occasionally uttering a hoarse quak; in summer two birds sometimes quarrel, uttering loud, harsh squawks.

It is always an extremely watchful bird, and long before an observer approaches near it rises and flaps slowly off. After it gets under way, it shortens its long neck so that there is a perceptible tuck in it, and stretches out its legs behind. It now settles into a flight which, though apparently heavy, takes the bird along with great ease and speed; the strokes are often alternated with periods of sailing. It frequently settles in the top of some tree at a safe distance. Its wing-spread is as great as a Fish Hawk's, but not so great as an eagle’s. The under sides of the wings have a distinct blue shade, but as a rule the wings look gray, with black borders and tips.

LEAST BITTERN. Ardetta exilis
13.00 in.

Ad. ♂.— Top of head, back, and tail glossy black; sides of neck yellowish-brown, deepening on back of neck into rich rusty-brown; patch on wing buffy, edged with rich rusty-brown; under parts white, tinged with buffy, unstreaked, a blackish patch at either side of breast. Ad. ♀.— Similar to male, but with the black replaced by brown; under parts darker, streaked with brownish. Im. ♂.— Similar to ad. , but under parts lightly streaked with black.

Nest, a platform of reeds, fastened to upright reeds. Eggs, white, or greenish-white.

[graphic][merged small]

The Least Bittern is a rather common summer resident of southern New England; it is rare north of Massachusetts, and occurs in northern New England only in the river valleys. It arrives in May and leaves in August. It is an inhabitant of cat-tail swamps, either along the sea-shore or inland, and of the grassy swamps along sluggish streams. It is very secretive, often escaping observation by stiffening in an upright position among the reeds, or by slipping off quietly as one approaches. Occasionally, when driven to it, it flutters off, with a low note, and drops into the flags near by. In spring the male utters a low coo coo coo, that suggests the note of the Mourning Dove.

If the bird is seen in the reeds, it may be known for a bittern by its long, sharp, light-colored bill and its stout feet, which grasp the stalks of the cat-tails. Its small size and the buff and chestnut patches on the wings will distinguish it from any other heron or bittern. Even the Green Heron will look large in comparison with this dininutive representative of the family; the whole wing of the Green Heron, moreover, looks dark, almost black.


AMERICAN BITTERN. Botaurus lentiginosus
28.00 in.

Ad.— Top of head rich chestnut-brown; back dark brown, streaked with buff; wings yellowish-brown, deeply tipped with black; sides of neck glossy black; under parts buffy, streaked with brown; bill yellow.

Nest, flat, of reed-stalks, on the ground, in marshes. Eggs, drab.

The Bittern is a summer resident throughout New York and New England, arriving in April, and leaving in September or October. It is rare in summer in the lower Hudson Valley and along Long Island Sound, but is not uncommon as a migrant. It breeds in extensive marshes, both fresh and salt, and on wet meadows along sluggish streams, but as a migrant it may occur in almost any small swamp or along the banks of small streams. It is a sluggish bird, and when any one approaches, stands erect with head pointing upward; in this position it harmonizes so well with the brown grass or cat-tails around it that it is very difficult to discover. When one is almost upon it, it springs up awkwardly, often with a hoarse cry, and then flaps off with slow strokes of its broad wings.

In April and May, in the early morning, late afternoon, and evening, the Bittern "pumps.” Standing in the grass, it utters at intervals a series of two or three notes, of a curious guttural character, resembling the syllables plumpuddn' or unk'-a-chunk', either wooden or liquid, according to the nature of the country between the listener and the bird. The notes sound either like the blows of a mallet on a stake, or like the gurgling of a pump. The Bittern may be cautiously approached when making these sounds; one can then see the curious movements with which he evidently gulps in air, and hear the click of his bill, which he opens and shuts rapidly before he begins the final delivery of the notes. (See Torrey, “ Auk,” vol. vi. p. 1.)

If seen in its erect position, the streaks of buff and black on the neck, and the long yellow bill distinguish it. If not startled, it hunches its back, and with bill pointing downward steals off with slow, cautious steps. When flying, the expanse of brown wings, tipped with black, identifies it. Immature Night Herons in the brown plumage have been mistaken for Bitterns; but the Bittern, so far as I know, never lights in trees, whereas the Night Heron regularly does so.


[GREAT EGRET]. Areda alba
39.00 in.

The Great Egret is a very common bird on Long Island and I don't know why it was not mentioned in the original book, perhaps it was less common at that time.


[SNOWY EGRET]. Egretta thula alba
22.1 - 26 in.

The Snowy Egret is somewhat common on Long Island and I don't know why it was not mentioned in the original book, perhaps it was less common at that time.


[GLOSSY IBIS]. Plegadis falcinellus
22 in.

Common in many parts of the world, they can be found in New England and New York shores in breeding season. Probably Spring to early Summer.


[YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON]. Nyctanassa violacea
1 ft 10 in – 2 ft 4 in.

In Hoffmann's time Yellow-crowned Night Herons weren't common in New England or New York and lived south of the area, but during the 20th century they started to go north and now you can find them, not in great numbers, in coastal areas of Long Island and New England.


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