Thursday, May 3, 2012

Black Crowned Night Herons in Lincoln Park

There is a surprising diversity of animal life in Lincoln Park, and that's not even counting the zoo animals.  The latest residents of the park are what appears to be dozens to several hundred nesting black crowned night herons.    The two lumps in this picture are black crowned night herons.  Don't see lumps?  There's one in the center and one left of center near the top.  Try squinting. (Another neat thing about the picture is the lack of overlap in the adjacent tree canopies - competition for light.)
Black Crowned Night Herons Nesting in Lincoln Park
During the day, night herons sleep and nuzzle and generally take it easy.  I'd love to show you a picture of how cute this is, but the area is fenced off, and I don't have a zoom lens.  Trust me - it's cute.  Imagine fat birds cuddling with their heads tucked into each others' feathers.  Here's a better picture from the Lincoln Park Zoo website.  As the birds sleep on their nests or on nearby branches, the wind is waving the branches around like mad.  I wonder what it feels like to have wild rocking be one's version of sitting still.  It must make standing on solid ground feel uncomfortable.

These night herons are nesting in Lincoln Park for the second year in a row.  According to a birdwatcher I met by the night herons who seemed to know everything, this population used to nest in a wetland southeast of Chicago that was destroyed.  Then they moved to an island near Lincoln Park, and last year they moved here - just south of the zoo along the main promenade.  The zoo and the park have erected fencing around the nests for two years now, cutting off the main thoroughfare in the park for several weeks.  Everyone seems to be happy to welcome the birds, and they are back despite the busy park traffic, bagpipe players, dogs, soccer matches and live music concerts.  It will be interesting to see if the new habitat allows their population to survive or diminish.  They have nested earlier due to the extremely mild winter. 

Night herons hunt at night, and they eat all sorts of small meat items - fish, frogs, birds, squirrels.  Given the number of squirrels, geese and ducks in the park, it may be a good thing to have a top predator around to help control populations of these other organisms.

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