To refresh your memory, here again are the photos for Bird Quiz #6. Read no further if you still want to have a shot at identifying these birds.
As I mentioned in the quiz, the top photo was taken in Arizona in May. The bottom photo was taken in Florida in December.
The first thing we notice about a bird is it’s surroundings. These birds are near fresh water, in a marshy habitat. (Of course, you know where you are if you’re the one taking the photo.)
The birds are fairly large but not huge. They have big, prey-grabbing bills, and at least the top one has red eyes. Both have fairly sturdy legs. The bottom bird has distinct striping on its chest; the top bird’s stripes are more muted (much like a Cassin’s Finch vs. a House Finch). Otherwise, they’re pretty similar.
There aren’t that many options for marsh birds of this size and shape. With those beaks, they’re either herons or American Bitterns, and bitterns don’t have red eyes. Brown stripes indicate juveniles, and the only striped juveniles are Night-Herons. Now comes the hard part: are they both Black-crowned, both Yellow-crowned, or is there one of each?
The first clue is where the birds were seen. Black-crowned Night-Herons are found in both Arizona and Florida, but Yellow-crowned are rare in Arizona. So it’s most likely that the top photo is a Black-crowned. Sibley points out the “broad, blurry streaks” on this species, and a “heavy but sharply pointed, extensively yellowish bill.” I see some yellow on the bill, much like the illustration in the book. That confirms it.
Now for the bottom bird. Again, Sibley describes the Yellow-crowned as having “relatively narrow, distinct streaks” on its chest and a “dark, thin bill.” This bird definitely has distinct streaks, and its bill is dark and thinner than the top bird. I call it a Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
There, that wasn’t too hard, was it?