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Types of Birds
Twenty heron, egret and bittern species fill the space under the American Birding Association's family Ardeidae category.
Eight of those species might have a single or couple of stay sightings credited to them. The North American breeding population consists of a dozen species.
Easily recognized as the often large, long-billed, long necked wading birds, herons and their relatives inhabit the water's edges of coastal and inland.
The presence of so many occasion species suggests that Ardeidae species come from tropical and subtropical roots. North American population patterns mimic that overall subtropical trend.
Sometime during the calender year, all twelve species can be spotted along the Southeast and the Gulf of Mexico.
On average, fewer Ardeidae species inhabit West Coast shorelines and inland watering holes. However in years of heavy northern migration of Mexican populations, eleven of the twelve species can be recorded.
With the exception of the American Bittern and the Least Bittern, North American heron and egret species tend to stand out in their environment.
Perhaps the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) stands out the most, given its propensity to build a rookery anywhere with a suitable water and food source.
One of two native Ardea species, they stand between three and four feet tall, with a wing span that approaches six feet.
Similar in size and habitat preference to the Great Blue Heron, the Great Egret (Ardea alba) stands apart by dint of its white feathers and a yellow bill.
Traditionally among the hardiest of the West Coast egrets, their populations extend up to the Canadian border.
Both appearance and behavior account for the naming of the Black-crowned Night Heron.
It is a small, stocky bird that stands about two feet tall. Its red eyes compliment its black crowned head.
The remainder of the body is a black except for the white or light colored front side.
Black-crowned Night Herons are social birds that live and nest in colonies.
They commonly feed during the night hours, however, it is not all that unusual to see some out fishing during the day by the edge of the water. Like most herons, they prefer fish, but they also supplement their diet with local insects, amphibians and small rodents.
Since they are very patient hunters you can often slowly approach them in a ten to fifteen foot range for a good picture.
Representing the Nyctanassa genus, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea), inhabits fresh and brackish water areas in much of the east.
While population levels in the Southeast are considered stable, some Midwest and Northeast population levels are listed as endangered, due primarily to habitat loss.
The top picture shows a juvenile with its characteristic brown feathers and black bill. Mature individuals have blue feathers with a white stripe across the face and a yellow stripe of feathers on the crown of the head.
They have the uncanny ability to stand frozen for long periods of time, waiting for food to come their way.
They are migratory birds that winter as far south as Central and South America.
At a little over a foot tall, the Green Heron often creates a larger presence by stretching its neck.
Fairly common across the continent, their diet consists primarily of small fish, however they adapt to their living spaces and eat insects, crustaceans and amphibians.
As a rule, Green Herons nest in trees, although not the type of colony nesting associated with herons.
© 2002-2011 Patricia A. Michaels.