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Rare Bird Alert: Yellow-Crowned Night Heron Lands at Whalon Lake

Photo for: Rare Bird Alert: Yellow-Crowned Night Heron Lands at Whalon Lake

Photo courtesy of Debi Shapiro

Fall migration is underway and with that not only comes the usual seasonal visitors passing through but, if you're lucky, you might also get some surprise sightings. 

Such has been the case for more than week at Whalon Lake, where visitors have been snapping photos of a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron and sharing them on our Will County Wildlife Facebook group.

These birds are a rare sight here, as they generally don't come this far north in Illinois and their breeding grounds are largely along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Sightings this far north are generally along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Ebird data shows there have only been a handful of sightings in the Chicago metropolitan area in the past year. In addition to the string of recent sightings at Whalon Lake, there have been a few just south of that location at Peacock Marsh in Bolingbrook, and a handful of other sightings in Chicago.

These birds are fairly small herons, featuring stocky bodies and short, thick necks. The juveniles have a brown, streaky appearance, and don't develop their black and white head with a yellow crown until they reach adulthood. 

Yellow-crowned night herons are fairly solitary birds and will forage by walking slowly on land and in shallow water, but also will strike a pose waiting for prey to approach. While they often will feed at night, it's not terribly unusual to see them feeding during the day. 

This most recent sighting once again confirms that you never know what you'll see out in the preserves, especially during migration season.

For example:

So when you're out and about, keep your eyes peeled. If it's a bird you've never seen before, it may be one that avid birders haven't either.


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