A peek at fledgling time for yellow crown herons
Yellow crown night heron JOHN JOHNSON / COURTESY PHOTO
One of the benefits of being a member of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida is the ability to enjoy the Nature Center free of charge as many times as I like.
When I visited last week, volunteer greeter Newt Ale was orienting a halfdozen new guests to the nature experiences available at the Conservancy. Newt mentioned the new filter marsh
and how it will hold and help purify runoff
from the Coastland Mall parking lot before releasing the cleaned up water into the Gordon River. At the mention of the river, I focused my attention on my objective of the day — to take the Conservancy 45-minute narrated electric boat tour as a passenger rather than a captain/narrator.
I was welcomed by volunteer dockmaster Joe Adams. “I haven’t heard anything yet about nesting yellow crowns this season,” Joe said. “But go out and see for yourself.”
Soon I was aboard one of the Duffy electric boats captained by volunteer Larry Harris, moving with seven other passengers along the Gordon River. The boat was nearly silent as we glided along, so I had no trouble hearing Capt. Larry’s comments. “The lagoon we’re leaving was dredged by Julius Fleischmann. He once had a citrus grove here and used the lagoon to load and ship his oranges. This quiet body of water is now not only our launch site, but also an occasional refuge for manatees. We had a couple here two weeks ago.”
The passengers went around and introduced ourselves: two Londoners, three from Washington, D.C., and a couple with their 6-yearold son, Timmy, from Hamburg Germany. “He’s fascinated,” said Timmy’s mother. “This is all so new to him. Very different from where we live.”
Almost immediately, we spotted a bird with the characteristic white cheek and yellow crown. It stood still a few feet from the bank as we passed. “Look, Timmy,” said the German mother pointing at the magnificent 2-foot tall bird. The boy’s eyes followed the mother’s finger and saw something he’d never seen before: a yellow crown heron.
“We’ll see nests on the rookery islands up ahead,” said Capt. Larry. But before our little boat got to the islands, we saw four more yellow crown adults. Their thick dark bills are well adapted to their diet of crabs and crustaceans. They’re called night herons, but are known to feed both night and day.
Perhaps these birds had staked out a feeding territory in preparation for the arrival of the next generation. In the past seasons, I’ve seen night herons fly at our boats and veer off at the last second, a move to dissuade an enemy from impinging on their territory.
Unable to resist become a volunteer captain instead of a passenger, I blurted, “Look sharp. We’re coming to the rookery islands. Thirteen percent of all birds that are colonial breeders and yellow crowns are part of that number. They often build multiple nests on islands to be safe from elements and predators.”
As we passed the islands, I saw three nests, well protected within the foliage of the red mangrove islands. I saw two adults sitting in the nests, probably incubating eggs. Then I saw another yellow crown fly in with a stick in its mouth.
“People are surprised to find that these birds renovate their nests even as they use them to incubate eggs,” I said. “They can make home improvements and don’t even need to pull a permit.”
The next several weeks should be an exciting time. As a member, you can observe the progress of the yellow crowns on the Conservancy of Southwest Florida narrated electric boats tours. The birds incubate the eggs for three weeks and the hatchlings grow at an amazing rate, reaching adult size and flying off in about six weeks. As the young ones grow, the adults retreat to nearby trees and watch the “branchlings” flap their wings and try to get up the courage to take off on first flights.
I looked over at the little German boy Timmy, who will be soon setting off for the first day of school and a life of independence — he himself also a fledging.
— Art Ritas is a volunteer at the Conservancy
of Southwest Florida. Partnering
with like-minded organizations, the
Conservancy works to manage growth
and protect area waters, land and wildlife.
The Conservancy of Southwest
Florida and Nature Center is at 1450
Merrihue Drive in Naples. For more
information, call 262-0304 or visit www.