One of our rarest, most beautiful, and interesting breeding birds occurs in the upscale Columbus neighborhood of Bexley. In the lushly landscaped upscale surroundings of large estate homes with average values hovering in the seven figures, our guys go about their business, producing awkward large-billed youngsters from conspicuous platforms of sticks located directly over quiet Preston Avenue. They've been doing this for seven years or so, and have become avian celebrities.
Today, I became a visiting paparazzi, loitering below and gaping upward to admire these fascinating birds. Draped with my binos and camera, I drew nary a blink or second look from neighbors tending to their tulips or passing by on strolls. The locals have become quite accustomed to our lot, stopping by to gawk at their gorgeous Yellow-crowned Night-Herons.
Columbus has long harbored small breeding colonies of this southern heron, and they've always been, at least most of them, in upscale suburbia nestled amongst the mansions. Apparently these are birds of refined tastes. I remember going to see one colony, long before I had a driver's license and thus was transported by my mother, in Upper Arlington along the Scioto River. There were quite a few nests then - I remember a half-dozen or more - and the birds were quite obvious. The residents in whose ravine the birds graced were quite proud of them, as I recall.
Then, for many years there was a nest or two in heavily wooded Overbrook Ravine, in the neighborhood of Clintonville.
These Columbus nests are just about the furthest north this species breeds.
A common denominator in all of these sites are the nearby presence of small streams, or in the case of the old Scioto River colony, the rocky shallow tail waters below Griggs Reservoir. Yellow-crowneds in the north seem to prefer small rocky streams for foraging. Such habitats contain an abundance of crayfish and small fish like Creek Chub.
Looking north along sedate Preston Road in Bexley. This unassuming street has become a beacon for visiting birders. One of the two Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nests is conspicuous, right over the street nestled in the crook of an overarching branch of one of these London Plane Trees. Or Sycamores, we really need to see the fruit to be sure. The former is a hybrid often planted as a street tree.
Sometimes the nests are disparaged as flimsy, unreliable-looking structures of questionable structural integrity. Not really, at least this one. It's grown into quite a pile of sticks. There is a bird crouched on it, presumably incubating eggs.
A beautiful adult. They must be quite used to the fawning admirers below, as they pay no mind - not even a glance - at the fans below. This nest was tended by three birds; likely the female on the nest, its mate standing ten feet away on a branch, and a third apparent adult nearby. The third party is probably an unmated non-breeder raised in a previous year at this site and still maintaining family ties.
One more look. Adult Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, to me, rank high among our waders in terms of outright good looks. Their rarity always makes them a treat to see in these parts. And their peculiar tastes in nesting locations adds yet another strange dimension to their allure.
If you find yourself in the Bexley area, stop by and pay your respects. Just stay off the lawns.