Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part Four
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Yellow-crowned Night-Heron’s Urban Nesting Attitude

 

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A mature Yellow-crowned night-heron along the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg. Photo by Kelly O’Neill.

This past spring I received an early morning text from a co-worker alerting me that she had spotted a Yellow-Crown Night-Heron nesting in downtown Harrisburg. I texted her back saying she must need more coffee because there was no way a Yellow-crowned would be nesting downtown. It’s an endangered species!

Skeptical but hopeful, I met her on my way to the office. There we were, binocs looking nearly straight up into the sky, standing in the middle of a street—gazing eye-to-eye with a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron sitting on her nest.

I "ate crow" that day.

But to my credit, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is not an everyday sighting. In fact, it is listed as an endangered species in Pennsylvania and is often considered one of the state’s rarest nesting birds. But as it turns out, this "urban nesting attitude" seems to be rather common for the Yellow-crowned, which has been known to breed along waterways in Cumberland, Dauphin, and York Counties.

My co-worker, Kelly O’Neill, CBF's Pennsylvania Agricultural Specialist, has been keeping an eye on this and several other local heron families ever since. O'Neill, an avid photographer, has catalogued (from a safe and respectful distance) a myriad of their spring- and summer-time activities.

O'Neill shares, “I’m thrilled to witness these beautiful birds. I hope that communities along the Susquehanna River will take seriously the need to reduce pollution so that the herons and all wildlife can thrive here.”

As you can imagine, when discussing an endangered or threatened species—sensitivity is paramount. Whether it’s the Bald Eagle or the Heron—disclosing their nest location is discouraged, in order to protect the birds. To that, we called-in the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The PA Game Commission conducts a survey of nesting waterbirds in the state, and works with communities and individuals to foster stewardship and the protection of these herons and their nest sites. 

Doug Gross, PA Game Commission Wildlife Biologist/ Endangered and Non-game Bird Section Supervisor provides this perspective:

“We are very pleased to locate any nests of the very rare Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in Pennsylvania. The few nests found in our state have been associated with urban areas of Southeastern Pennsylvania, especially the Lower Susquehanna River drainage area. In fact, three of our Endangered heron species, including the Black-crowned Night-Heron, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and the larger and more conspicuous Great Egret, can all be found along the Lower Susquehanna River. 

Each of these species is critically endangered in Pennsylvania, and may serve as indicators of the health of the water quality where they nest and forage. Overall, we have seen an increase in populations of many species associated with higher quality streamsranging from Bald Eagles to Common Mergansers to Belted Kingfishers. Water quality contributes so much to the quality of life for both humans and wildlife, so we appreciate our partners who help protect aquatic habitat and educate the public about the importance of keeping our waters healthy.

Gross adds: “We really appreciate that many Pennsylvanians have adopted herons as their own special wildlife and have cooperated with protecting nest sites. Keeping an eye on our herons is helping us keep an eye on what is important for all of us.”

O'Neill continues to watch the herons as the young hone their fishing skills, and we are thrilled to share some of her photos for all to enjoy. See our album on Facebook for these magnificant images.

—Kelly Donaldson

To learn more about the Yellow-crowned night-heron and how you can help, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.

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