Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in Three Painful Steps

When you live in Ontario Canada, you see lots of Black-crowned Night-Herons. I’ve seen so many individuals over the years I couldn’t begin to try giving you a number here. What I remember most about them is the bird next to it in my old Golden Field Guide to Birds of North America, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (YCNH). Oh how I wanted to see that bird. I’ve spent my entire life wanting to find one. Then, this summer, a juvenile shows up near Toronto and I have to see it. This short story is about my first YCNH encounter. I was…

Advanced ID Tip: Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s?

Sharp-shinned & Cooper’s Hawks are 2 of the most mis-identified birds in North America based on their similar markings & structure. The smallest members of the Genus “Accipiter” in North America, these birds are woodland hawks characterized by long tails & short wings, which aid them in chasing avian prey through dense cover. Some field guides in the past have sought to simplify the ID process by looking for a short cut to ID, by relying on a single characteristic – the shape of the tail, “Is it square or round?”. However, like any tough identification, attempts to oversimplify just lead…

ID Tip: Green-Winged Teal

If it looks like a sandpiper, acts like a sandpiper and flies like a sandpiper it must be a sandpiper, except when it’s a duck. There is only one duck that regularly and artfully pulls off a sandpiper impersonation: the Green-winged Teal. Green-winged Teal frequently forage on mudflats, busily poking and prodding at the mud, just like a sandpiper. The females are garbed in drab brown similar to many sandpipers and in the late summer and early fall and the males are also mostly or fully brown. Identifying female ducks, particularly small female dabbling ducks, can be a challenge at…

ID Tip: Immature Night Herons

Something new to look at on juvenile night-herons? Adult Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night-Herons look quite different, rarely presenting an identification challenge. Juvenile night-herons on the other hand can be challenging if you don’t know what to look for. There are a number of well-known differences. Yellow-crowned have longer legs and are lankier and more “heron-like” overall, while Black-crowned have shorter legs and are very stocky. Yellow-crowned are darker brown with sharply defined streaking, while Black-crowned are paler and more grayish with broader but more diffuse streaking on the chest. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons have an all-black bill, while Black-crowned have a large…

ID Tip: White Geese

As winter approaches, birders in North America will soon be confronted with the identification challenge of separating Snow Geese from Ross’s Geese. Typically this is pretty easy, but the small numbers of Snow X Ross’s goose hybrids that exist add an additional layer of difficulty. In this photo, we have a typical Snow Goose at the back with the long neck, sloping forehead, and long bill that shows a significant “grinning patch”, the oval-shaped opening between the upper and lower mandible. The bird in the center is a typical Ross’s Goose, much smaller than the Snow Goose with a rounded…

ID Tip: Yellowlegs & Stilt Sandpipers

Like many species of waterbirds, shorebirds often fly in mixed flocks. Call me crazy, but looking through a mixed flock of fast-moving birds trying to sort out all the species involved is one of my favorite things to do. It can be quite a challenging exercise and requires concentration, stable optics and the ability to judge size and shape quickly. Personally, I’ve always had difficulty picking out Stilt Sandpipers in distant flocks of Yellowlegs. During the fall, flocks of Yellowlegs are frequently seen flying in and out marshy wetlands. In many areas these flocks may include a few Stilt Sandpipers…

ID Tip: Large Terns

I was out at Tybee Island, Georgia over the weekend and was able to get some good comparison shots of Royal and Caspian Terns. These are the two largest terns in North America (Caspian is the largest tern in the world), and though they are quite different, they can still occasionally be confused. At least they can be confused until you see comparison photos like these! In the first photo the Royal Tern is on the left and the Caspian on the right. Royal Tern has a bill shaped like a dagger blade while Caspian has a bill like a…