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April 25, 2005

Birds Of Iraq: The Night Heron

They come in the dark, do the Night Herons, to peck out the eyeballs of bad children the world over. So be good, child, or one morning you'll wake up blind.

Well no, not really. There's no Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster is probably a sturgeon, and Black-Crowned Night Herons do not feast upon the eyeballs of misbehaving kinder--else we'd all be blind.

It's a good story though, and every little bit helps when it comes to keeping the kids in line. Besides, it'll make that first case of pink eye all the more exciting.

The two races of Night Herons (Old and New World) actually feed during any time of day--hence the nice lighting seen above--and upon more mundane substances than eyeballs, though, since they are known as opportunistic feeders, one might not want to get to close, just in case.

Its diet consists mainly of fish, though it is frequently rounded out by other items such as leeches, earthworms, aquatic and terrestrial insects. It also eats crayfish, mussels, squid, amphibians, lizards, snakes, rodents, birds, eggs, carrion, plant materials, and garbage and refuse at landfills. It is usually a solitary forager, and it strongly defends its feeding territory. The night heron prefers to feed in shallow waters, where it grasps its prey with its bill instead of stabbing it. A technique called 'bill vibrating'--which is opening and closing the bill rapidly in water--creates a disturbance which may lure prey. Evening to early morning are the usual times it feeds, but when food is in high demand, such as during the breeding season, it will feed at any time of the day.

They're also agressive, unpopular with other herons, and carriers of a deadly disease.

Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) is the most important cause of epidemic encephalitis worldwide, with an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 cases and 10,000 deaths annually...Migrating birds, particularly the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) and the Asiatic cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis coromandus), are thought to be important in the virus' dispersal to new geographic areas.

That's a male in the photo above, another pic courtesy of LTC Bob, resplendent in his breeding plumage. His long white plumes, a feature possessed by many heron species, were once prized by the millinery trade in turn-of-the century America, the demand for which nearly wiped out heron populations on the U.S. East Coast. That's the previous turn-of-the-century, in case you were wondering. Females and juveniles are much blander in appearance.

In Iraq, the Night Heron is mostly a summer resident of the Tigris/Euphrates basin, though some populations may exist year-round in the southeastern marshes.

Previously: The Crested Lark

Next: The Little Egret and Common Snipe

Posted by Bigwig at April 25, 2005 12:16 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.
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