by Kyle Sweet, Sanctuary Golf Club Superintendent
The Yellow-crowned Night Heron is quite common throughout the southeastern United States, particularly in coastal regions such as the islands of Sanibel and Captiva. It can often be found along the edges of mangroves, where it nests, and in shallow tidal waters.
This stout-billed heron forages in shallow waters, walking slowly or standing still waiting for prey to approach. In coastal areas, they feed on many crustaceans, mainly crabs and crayfish but may also round out their diet with mollusks,frogs, insects and small fish. When inhabiting inland, fresh waters, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron’s diet can be much more varied.
Although often considered a solitary bird, they nest in colonies sometimes mixed with Black-crowned Night Herons or other waders such as Snowy Egrets and Green Herons. Breeding displays include both stretching the neck toward the sky and crouching with the breeding plumage erected. Pairs greet each other by raising their crest ( Yellow Crown ), touching bills and preening each others feathers. These behaviors and displays are often easily seen. Although they nest in thick vegetation, their actual nests are open, flat nests that are a platform of sticks, lined with finer twigs. They are typically close to the water and are observed just this way on many of our golf course lakes.
As their name indicates, these birds are often active at night, so keep your eyes out along roadways, biking and walk paths from dusk to dawn as they are often commuting from roosts to foraging areas.
Well worth a close look with a scope or binoculars, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron can be enjoyed year-round all over the islands and if observed when breeding, can put on a show you won’t soon forget.