Common Birds of India

Night Heron.( Nytcticorax nycticorax )

- Ragoo Rao

A walk along the shores of a lake or pond, specially in the late evening, one might find a paddy bird sized bird, a little stouter and more dejected looking expression, with ashy grey upper body and white under parts with glistening black shoulders and crest. This is the Night Heron.

Both sexes look alike and they have attractive white flowing plumes from their head. They are more active and vocal in the evenings and night. The lake side will be filled with their raucous and harsh Kwaaak....kwaaak.. calls.

These birds are found all over the country especially around lakes and marshy areas where they hunt for small crustaceans and frogs. Sometimes they enter the paddy fields also specially if there are no humans around. They have the typical heron like gait and they stand still with puffed up crops stalking for any crustacean or small frog to feed on. The moment a prey is sighted they dash out and seize it with yellowish stout bills, and immediately take the dejected looking stance.

Like all herons these birds also colonize favourite roosting spots, on large leafy trees quite far from their regular lakes or ponds.

Nesting is communal and the same trees are selected year after year by the same colony. Nesting season is anywhere between early summer to end of September in the northern part of the country. The southern birds are found nesting around the cooler months from early December to February. The nest is a mass of twigs lined with down feathers and usually has a clutch of 3 to 5 pale green eggs. Both sexes share all the domestic chores.

The young are very ugly and very voracious and raucous. The parents have a tough time feeding them and the young chicks are found quarreling with each other for tit-bits, brought by their parents. Once they shed their chick feathers and don their natural colour, they look so magnificent and fresh.

The flight of these birds is a sight to see, graceful deliberate wing beats which almost appear to be in slow motion. Silhouetted against the darkening sky they are a photographer's delight.


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