Why Is a Large Grey and White Heron Perched in a Tree in the Sunshine?

When I think of herons, I usually think of a Great Blue Heron stalking slowly through the water as a few wisps of grey mist curl around its legs. As the sun burns off the morning fog, I often see herons perched on semi-submerged logs or docks fishing for frogs, crayfish and minnows along the shore. I’m not particularly used to seeing herons perching in trees especially in the bright morning sunshine.

Photo of Black Crowned Night Heron Rattray on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks herons belong in the water in daytime. I met another morning rambler at the Rattray watching a heron which had just landed in a small tree near the boardwalk. I had seen the impressive sweep of dark grey and white wings as it swept in to a landing and was pleased the bird had settled where we could see it. This watcher was puzzled about why the heron had landed in a tree.

As I suspected from the colouring and location, it was a Black Crowned Night Heron. They are a fairly common bird in the Toronto area although they aren’t particularly common in the Rattray Marsh.

Photo of Black Crowned Night Heron Neck On NaturalCrooksDotCom
Night Herons have reasonably long necks when they stretch them out.

I commented to the other person that Night Herons like these usually hunt at dawn, dusk and at night, and then rest during the sunny part of the day. They often roost is trees and use the leaves to help conceal themselves from predators and nuisances. The place this bird had landed, though, was not one of the usual roosts. Sure enough, it flew a few minutes later.

In the spring I’ve seen some roosting in odd places before. One was in a mostly dead poplar tree, not really close to any water but not far if it flew to the Lake, at Lakeside Park in Mississauga. Like this bird, that one left later in the day and did not return.

Photo of Black Crowned Night Heron Lakeside Park on NaturalCrooksDotCom
It took a minute to recognize this Night Heron at Lakeside in 2014. Between the bird perching in a poplar and my looking at it bill-on, the heron didn’t look familiar at all!

Another Reason for Herons to Perch in Trees

Many herons nest in trees including Great Blue Herons and Black Crowned Night Herons. Great Blues may nest in spaced out groups especially if there are several drowned trees in a marshy area. Black Crowneds will share a tree or sometimes will build in cattail clumps. Great Blues have been known to fly quite a distance from their nests to feed with different birds heading off in different directions. Sometimes the location of the nesting area can be found by watching for herons returning in the evening.

Do Black Crowned Night Herons Migrate?

Black Crowned Night Herons have managed to successfully over-winter in the Toronto area. Due to thermal pollution there are always some areas of open water in Toronto, even when it’s -30C. Many of the herons, though, migrate south and return in the spring. The bird I saw this morning may have been a migrant passing through.

Last fall, a Yellow Crowned Night Heron juvenile joined a group of young Black Crowned Night Heron’s a Colonel Sam Smith Park. Hopefully, it moved south with them before freeze up because it was not reported during the winter.

I quite enjoyed meeting this heron unexpectedly. It made my rather cold morning walk more memorable.

Photo of Black Crowned Night Heron Rattray A on NaturalCrooksDotCom


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Have you encountered a heron with a “punk rock” hairdo? Was it hunting along the shoreline or perching sleepily on a branch? Please share your sighting with a comment.

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