Black-crowned night herons can be seen hunting during the day in the spring as they look for extra calories for the breeding season.
Hunters prowl the skies and the marshes at Market Lake WMA, making it a very scary place to be a mouse, fish or an invertebrate. Short-eared, long-eared and great horned owls, harriers, ibis, cormorants, gulls, avocets, black-necked stilts, osprey, bitterns, and more all vie for protein packaged as prey species. Most of the predators target a fairly small spectrum of prey. Owls and hawks are largely mousers. Cormorants fish, avocets and stilts hunt for small invertebrates.
There are a couple of generalists out there though, and from them no prey is safe. These are the herons, the lanky great blue heron and its stubby cousin, the black-crowned night heron. As a rule, the great blue heron reigns by day and the black-crowned night heron hunts by night, thus partitioning the resources to reduce direct competition. For them, anything they can swallow or break into pieces is fair game: frogs, mollusks, fish, mice, eggs, snakes, nestling birds, insects, worms and even carrion are on the menu.
The black-crowned night heron looks little like its long-legged and long-necked cousin. Males and females are similar: short, perhaps 18 inches tall, and stout-bodied with the male being slightly the larger of the two. They are white underneath with gray wings, black crowns and backs. Two ruby eyes are set beneath the black cap, yolk yellow legs suitable for wading stretch out and they have almost no tail. A thick black bill completes the look except during breeding when three feathers on the back of the head grow out to almost a foot in length.
The night heron almost looks like two different birds, depending on if it is hunting or resting. At rest, the neck is pulled down and it appears that the heron’s head rests directly on its shoulders. When hunting though, the neck is outstretched and the bird looks streamlined and not stubby.
Besides the great blue heron, the black-crowned night heron also counts as first cousins the green, yellow-crowned, tri-colored and little blue herons but these are seldom seen in Idaho. Second cousins include the bittern and the egrets, several of which can be seen at Market Lake. However, the black-crowned heron is found throughout most of the continental U.S. and southern Canada. Members of the species nest on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
Like most members of the heron family black-crowned night herons are colony nesters. The male begins the nest and then advertises for a mate with a series of bows and by raising the plume on his head. Once a mate is secure the couple completes the nest. Both share in the incubation of the eggs and the brooding of the helpless chicks, hunting and defending the nest from predators and inquisitive neighbors.
Since black-crowned night herons hunt mostly between evening and morning, evenings are generally when you are most likely to see one as it flies by calling its distinctive hoarse “kwok!” or “quark!” However, during the spring, night herons hunt during the day as well to stack on calories for the breeding season. Right now at Market Lake you can find several black-crowned night herons during the daylight hours on the marsh road that parallels I-15. Look for them toward the north end.
If reincarnation were an actual fact, coming back as a black-crowned night heron might be a good choice. They are handsome top predators that seldom go hungry!
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho