Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura


Admiring birds, photographing them, and counting them for surveys – all these are excellent pastimes. But for a real and meaningful interaction, there can surely be nothing more rewarding than animal rescue. Melissa Maura, known I’m sure to many readers of this blog, is an expert at caring for damaged or orphaned creatures. And at the beginning of June, she took a small dishevelled YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON into her care for rehabilitation. He was named Big Bird.

June 4  Big Bird has arrived…. For some rehab and perhaps a salon appointment…Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura

To start with, Big Bird was little enough to fit into a smallish space while the process of feeding and nurturing commenced. He was clearly quite a character.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura

Very soon, Big Bird was becoming less straggly and more herony – even his startling hairstyle started to grow out. By this stage, he was eating almost a bag a day of bait shrimp.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura

The next step in the rehab process came with the move from a small indoor cage and promotion to a big outside cage. This provided more room for Big Bird, and helped him learn to stretch his growing wings and learn to be independent.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa MauraYellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura

Big Bird’s wings became increasingly strong, and his early crazy hairstyle settled into something rather more crown-like.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa MauraYellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura

A mere 6 weeks or so after Melissa started to look after Big Bird, he was nearly ready for the final stage of rehab – freedom. The specially selected location was an area where there were already a number of juvenile herons, companions for Big Bird to grow up with.

Big Boy (foreground)Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura

As Melissa wrote: “It comes down to this moment, after all those hours of feeding, caging and keeping a watchful eye to then see that flight to freedom!”

Preparing to fly freeYellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura

And then, suddenly, the heart-stopping moment of the launch… Inelegant, but inevitableYellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura

Melissa’s posts about Big Bird unsurprisingly inspired many fans (including me, of course) who followed the story over the weeks of Big Bird’s rehab. As Melissa wrote online of the release:

“Yesterday morning Big Bird was placed lovingly into his custom-made box and transported by ferry to his new residence – the wilds of Blue Lagoon Island where upon arrival at a chosen spot, we were met by no less than 13 other juvenile Night Herons exactly his age! They all gathered nearby as we released our baby and watched him take his first steps in sand and tackle longer flights. It was such a relief to see him appear so comfy in his new home and he blended into his surrounds perfectly, sporting his best hair-do. Heartfelt thanks to Kelly Meister, John McSweeney and the island crew for helping us put Big Bird in the best possible wild situation…”

And so it goes – another bird rescued, cared for, released, and set free to live and to breed in the wild. In a turbulent world of dissent and discord, I hope people will find a grain of joy and optimism in the tale of Big Bird the Heron.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Rescue Bird 'Big Boy) - Melissa Maura

Credits: All photos by Melissa, quotes as shown in maroon. Go safely, Big Bird… 


Birds of San Salvador (cover) JPG


  • Authors: R. Hays Cummins, Mark R. Boardman, Mark L. McPhail
  • Published 1 Jan 2013, 132pp with 400+ images covering 54 species
  • Available spiral bound for $29.95 on Am@zon; and a steal at $3.16 for Kindle (£5.99 in the UK)
  • STOP PRESS Also available on iTunes for iPhone / iPad, where I imagine it looks great. Once downloaded, author Hays says it can be viewed on a Mac, certainly if you have the latest OS X Mavericks. UK price: a very modest £1.99 (= $3.30)

Within a couple of weeks of the decision to use Tom Sheley’s wonderful Bahama Woodstar as the ‘cover bird’ for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, another Bahamas bird book was announced. The same colourful and enchanting endemic bird had also commended itself to the authors for their cover. I wrote to Hays Cummins at once to check whether he would mind another Bahamas bird book encroaching on the territory, especially one using the same cover bird into the bargain. He very charmingly said it would be fine and declared his support for our (luckily) rather different project.

It’s been a while since I added to the section BOOKS, but I thought I’d mention this one for two reasons. First, it is described as ‘A Photo Essay of Common Birds’, which in practical terms means that most if not all of the species featured will be common to the northern Bahamas and therefore familiar on Abaco. Secondly, I very much like the format of the book: there are clear photos; and all necessary general information including notes on individual characteristics and similar species is presented in an easily assimilable way. Were the Delphi book not designed to be the 2 kg bird-showcasing non-field guide doorstop it is, the San Salvador book is one I should liked to have produced! Birds of San Salvador (sample page 1) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 2) DESCRIPTION “This enchanting book addresses a need for an important audience, the budding naturalist, which many of our students are. Without fanfare and pomposity, the book presents beautiful and inspiring photos and lively discussion, but does not indulge in the details of the accomplished birder. The authors present information about the natural history of birds on San Salvador, Bahamas, not through the eyes of a professional or advanced birder, but through the eyes and photographic lenses of inquiring educators and naturalists. This book will help capture and catalyze the interests of aspiring birders and will be an asset for introductions to the birds of the Bahamas and neighboring Caribbean. Over 400 images, representing 54 species, are all original and include a variety of behaviors and highlight recognition characteristics. The authors’ aesthetic photography, printed on high quality paper, will help reinforce identification and enjoyment. Birds are organized by habitat (Coastal, Interior, and Lakes & Ponds), not by taxonomic affinities. A taxonomic index is included.” 

I’m pleased to see the decision to depart from the usual taxonomic ordering of species, though I recognise that for a serious field guide that tradition is pretty much sacrosanct. We played around with categories and sub-categories a bit (sea birds, water birds, land birds; big, medium, small; cute, splendid, dull, plug-ugly) before settling on Peter Mantle’s excellent idea of straight alphabetical organisation. For a mainly photographic book this gives an element of surprise to turning the pages, and avoids  e.g. 37 pages of warblers species, mostly yellow, all huddled together.  Birds of San Salvador (sample page 4) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 5) I notice that there is a single Amazon review, a good one, that says “This guide to one of the lesser known islands in the Bahamas is a nice one. While not exhaustive, it covers most of the species likely to be seen on San Salvador. The style is unorthodox for a field guide (elements of humor, gives brief description of species, but no real key field marks), the descriptions, locations on the island, and behaviors make this guide useful for those visiting San Salvador. The photographs are excellent.” Birds of San Salvador (sample page 3)For anyone interested in a useful reference guide to the common birds of Abaco, and in possession of a Kindle, this book is easily worth getting electronically.  ‘To be brutally honest’ (™ Sandy Walker), I’d like in due course to produce a small book very like this for Abaco, but it would obviously be naked plagiarism to do that, so of course I won’t. Still, all the same…


Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 5


The Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violate) is a smallish heron, and avian counterpart to the Black-crowned Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). The clue to the main difference between them is in the names. The juveniles of both species are similar. The ‘night’ part of the name refers to their preferred time for feeding. They have broad appetites that include crustaceans, molluscs, frogs, fish, and aquatic insects. 

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 6

At Delphi, these lovely birds are regularly seen in gardens round the pool; drinking from the pool; standing hopefully waiting for prey to show itself in the water; and occasionally getting a bit confused by the whole thing (see below). Delphi Club Pool

Looking rightYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 7

Looking wet and ruffledYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 8

Looking hungryYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 9

Looking contentedYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 10

The YNCH will stand motionless, waiting to ambush its prey. So a human, wandering to the pool laden with towel, book, iWotsit™, sun stuff and a cool Kalik, may easily not spot the bird at first. It will have seen you first, anyway, and moved away quietly if it isn’t too sure about you. However, they can be surprisingly tame if not startled. You may settle down, and suddenly sense that you are being watched from the other side of the pool…Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Delphi (DR)

Peter Mantle managed to capture a wonderful moment when a juvenile YCNH made a bit of a mistake early one morning while the pool cover was still in place… It looks embarrassed and slightly apologetic.Yellow-crowned Night Heron (juv) PM IMG_4607 (2)

Usually, these birds are to be found in marshy areas, or by brackish ponds where (unlike the pool) there is a ready supply of food for them. A few miles south of Delphi is an excellent pond for birding near Crossing Rocks, where there is always the chance of seeing an unusual or rare species. Herons and egrets often use the landing stage as a vantage point for scoping out the feeding opportunities. The next pictures are of a juvenile (?teenage) YCNH doing just that – and fortunately, the pond does not have a cover to cause discombobulation of the species. Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 3 Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 2Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 4

Black-crowned night heron for comparison220px-Black-crowned_Night_Heron_RWD7


Photo credits: All RH except the across-pool-starer (David Rainford); the confused juvenile on the pool cover (Peter Mantle); and the last 2 comparatives (Wiki)