Black-Crowned Night Heron and Great Blue Heron Encounter

© Babsje (

Black-crowned night heron in the cove.

© Babsje (

Great blue heron adult male cooling off.

From his spot deep in the eastern end of the cove, the great blue heron spread his wings and panted to keep cool, a bevy of ducks at his feet. (Did you notice that I referred to this heron as “he?” Read on and you’ll discover why I was sure it was a male.)

It was very hot that day, almost too hot for kayaking, and I was about to pack it in for the day because of the heat, when suddenly the heron took flight. He was chasing off another, younger great blue heron!

Its always a thrill to see two great blues in the cove at the same time, though, and so I slathered on more sunblock and turned the kayak around to follow.

© Babsje (

Great blue heron fledgling on the shore.

It was then that I noticed it perched on a partly-submerged branch on the south shore of the cove, a bird I had never seen before – a black-crowned night heron.

I was torn. Should I follow the two great blue herons heading west overhead, or stop and watch the night beron?

The novelty factor won out. I couldn’t resist the appeal of the night heron’s startling red eyes, and so I slid the kayak to as hidden a spot as I could find along the shore.

I’m not sure which of us was more curious about the other, as the night heron seemed to be alertly watching me or the kayak as I snapped off photos.

The whereabouts of the adult great blue heron were a mystery, but not so for the youngster he had been chasing: the fledgling great blue landed on the south shore, just a few yards east of the night heron.

The night heron noticed the fledgling great blue even before I did, and when the fledgling clambered over a dock that jutted out into the cove, the night heron quickly flew past and perched just west of the fledgling. It stretched up to full height and watched the fledgling for a few minutes and then both herons settled in to fish near each other.

The night heron then flew off across the cove to the north shore and landed just offshore, and began fishing while hunkered down in the water. The fledgling great blue heron followed suit, landing on the same shore a few yards west of the night heron.

The black-crowned night heron lazily flew back across the cove and landed farther west on the south shore, where it briefly eyed a gaggle of Canada geese before resuming fishing.

The fledgling great blue heron, however, was on heightened alert there on the north shore, looking intently towards the west, and for good reason, and this is where the real excitement begins.

Remember the adult great blue heron who had originally chased the juvenile from the deep end of the cove? The adult male was lurking on the north shore all along, and when the interloper fledgling landed, the adult took action.

With back feathers erected in a full territorial display, the adult – an alpha male – flew to within a few yards of the fledgling.

In the first frame, below, the fledgling heron looks shocked by the appearance and demeanor of the adult male. Its cap feathers are erect in alarm as it turns away from the adult, ready to flee.

As you can see in frames two through four, the fledgling ran down the shoreline, with the alpha male chasing after it. When the adult heron closed the gap to within about ten feet, the fledgling took flight.

© Babsje (

Great blue heron fledgling being chased by it’s father along the shoreline.

What happened next? Did the alpha male take off after the fledgling? And where was the black-crowned night heron while all this drama was happening on the north shore? Remember him?

While the great blue heron chase scene was unfolding, the night heron was foraging away on the south shore, occasionally looking across the cove at the excitement, but mostly keeping an eye on the Canada geese, and vice-versa.

When the fledgling took off to escape the alpha male, it merely flew back across the cove to the south shore, landing very near the black-crowned night heron. The two birds eyed each other for a few moments and then settled in, fishing near each other in peaceable coexistence as they had been doing before the great blue heron chase scene.

© Babsje (

Great blue heron fledgling and black-crowned night heron eyeing each other.

And what of the alpha male? He did not chase the juvenile across the cove. He stood stock still there on the north shore and glared across the cove. He absolutely glowered, furrowed brow and all. My take on his behavior is that he was wary of the black-crowned night heron, and so ceded that shore. This would explain why the adult male had left the fledgling alone on the south shore previously, as well.

I know this is the sort of long post that only a bird geek could love. I’m a shameless bird geek, I admit it, and I was amazed by what took place that day.

My heart was in my throat when the alpha male aggressively chased off the fledgling. I had a warm feeling as the fledgling great blue and the adult black-crowned night heron accepted each others’ presence and shared their fishing grounds. The Canada geese were amusing, the guard goose standing sentinel, warily watching all the three of the herons where there was usually only one at most. The ducks seemed nunplussed, oblivious to the excitement, rooting away in the duckweed, making that snap, crackle, and pop Rice Krispies sound with their beaks.

I found this interaction especially fascinating because the adult male is the father of the fledgling, and the encounters that took place that day may have been the first times that the male had been aggressively territorial towards its own offspring. Female herons often will accept the presence of their youngsters long after fledging and will share their territory whereas adult males will not. I imagine that it would be confusing and scary for the fledgling the first time a parent becomes an aggressor, a threat.


Thanks once more to Prairiebirder Charlotte for her Feathers on Friday prompt.

Thanks also to Cee Neuner and WordPress for the Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge: Three nudge. There are three herons in this post.

Thanks once again to Stewart Moncton for the Wild Bird Wednesday prompt.


A selection of my heron and flower photos is now available at the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, MA. Drop in and see the work of the many wonderfully creative artists who show there when you’re in the area.

Five Crows is on FaceBook. To give the gallery a visit, please click here.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

(These photos were taken August 25, 2007)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Black-Crowned Night Heron, Great Blue Heron, Fledgling Heron

Posted on December 7, 2013, in ardea herodias, Art, Birds, Cee's Fun Foto Challenge, Feathers on Friday, Great Blue Heron, Heron, Kayaking, Nature Photography, Night Heron, Photo Essay, Photography, postaday, Wildlife Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Great photo’s, Babsje 🙂

  2. I’m thrilled you could join along in the fun! Thanks!

  3. Great photos and such a neat encounter!

  4. I’ve never seen a black-crowned night heron. Thanks for sharing the pictures! He’s cute.

    • You’re welcome, glad you think he’s cute, I do as well. It fascinates that the great blues, the green herons, and the night herons are all members of the heron family. They’re so unique.

  5. I am so glad you are a “bird geek”! I enjoyed reading your encounter, and it is interesting how the males do not tolerate their offspring, but the females do….thank you sharing all the great photos, story and I always learn something new when I stop by….that night heron is fascinating to look at:-)

    • Hi Robbie – Thanks for your thoughtful comment, I’m glad you like the night heron. That day was the first I had seen one, and so I was earning as they day progressed. The fledgling GBH and the adult night heron got along together nicely, which was fascinating to witness.

  6. Nice set of pictures – its important to know who the boss is!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Hi Stewart – Thanks, and you’re right about the boss, and in this case it seems. To be the littlest guy, the black-crowned night heron, because the alpha male great blue left it alone and never did land on the same shore with it.

  7. I will see if I can get over to the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, sometime soon.

    • Hi Ann – Ah, you must be in MA then, cool. Thanks for stopping by the gallery – the works I have there are for the most part not shown on my blog, though a couple of them are. Best, Babsje

      • Hi, Babsje! Natick is a little bit of a hike from where I live, but I would love to make it out there over the next couple of weeks, and maybe buy a present or two! I will let you know.

  8. Wonderful pics, Babsje. What a drama indeed, and very well captured and narrated. 🙂

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