Bird Bio: Black-crowned Night Heron

On recent visits to Centerhill Lake there have been some really good birdwatching opportunities. Sightings include Prothonotary Warbler, Barn Swallows, Purple Martins, Great blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Green Heron, Bald eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Wood Thrush, and the bird we will focus on this week, the Black-crowned Night Heron.

Prothonotary Warbler

Green Heron

The Black-crowned Night Heron is a stocky, short legged bird most often seen in marshes, and along shorelines of rivers and lakes. They have a black back and cap which is in stark contrast to its gray wings and white underparts. Seen through binoculars you will see its red eyes. The legs are yellowish to yellow-green. During breeding you might be fortunate to see the long white head plumes on display. Their vocalization is a short flat “quok”.

Perhaps these herons are not seen as routinely as other species because they are mostly inactive during the day, often just sitting in a hunched over posture. It was in this posture that I first sighted the birds on a power line extending to the boat dock. They become active around dusk to feed, hunting for fish and other aquatic life.

During the breeding season both male and female take part in nest building, and interestingly, the male assumes some of the incubation duties and care for the young after hatching. A clutch usually consists of between 3 and 5 eggs.

Keep your eyes open and your binoculars handy. Wherever you find yourself recreating there will likely be some interesting birds.

Birding on Vacation

I always recommend bringing binoculars on a vacation.  Maybe birdwatching isn’t your “main” activity but it sure is fun to see birds not seen in your own backyard.  It just adds another element of fun and discovery that can round out your vacation activities. 

I recently vacationed in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and snorkeling in the beautiful clear blue waters was the dominant activity, and it was fascinating.  There are so many beautiful fish and other aquatic life to see.  Snorkeling and exploring the underwater world and identifying the aquatic life could easily become a new obsession, but living in TN will prohibit me from “diving” into a new hobby.

I did want to share some of the bird life encountered, though, and interestingly enough there was not a lot seen while on land.We only saw one species of hummingbird, the Green-throated Carib. Of the 5 types of hummingbirds seen on the island only two are considered common while 3 of them are considered rare or accidental. I did not actually get to go out with the intention of “birding” as I was with a group and a lot was planned.While on a catamaran excursion, though, my binos came in quite handy.

Non breeding male Frigatebird

Breeding male Frigatebird

So, mostly we were treated to sightings of ocean birds. Highlights include the Magnificent Frigatebird, a bird generally seen along coasts and over open water. These large, dark seabirds have the longest wingspan, in proportion to weight, of all birds. Seafarers named these aerial predators for a swift warship. Frigatebirds skim the sea snatching surfacing fish, but have also been known to harass other birds in flight forcing them to drop their catch then promptly swooping to catch the falling meal. The male is glossy black and known for the orange throat pouch that becomes bright red when inflated in a courtship display. They measure around 40” in length and have a wingspan of 90”, or roughly 7.5 feet.

Brown Pelican

Laughing Gull

Brown Boobie

Royal Tern

Also seen were Brown Booby, Elegant and Royal Tern, Brown Pelican, and Laughing Gull. All of these birds were regularly seen hunting the water for schools of fish near the surface.

The Elegant Terns would hunt in small flocks, hovering and suddenly folding their sharp wings diving with great speed into the water emerging effortlessly with their prey. The Elegant Tern is named appropriately.  They are a very elegant bird in appearance.  They have a white and gray body with a black crest and bright orange beak.

The Brown Pelicans are always fun to watch as they skim the surface of the water together.  Pelicans are such a large awkward looking bird but in flight they are a wonder.  As Pelicans would dive into the water for a meal the Laughing Gulls would hover just over them and actually land on their heads hoping to steal the catch away. It was very entertaining. 

Open Garden Tour


Saturday, June 15th from 9am to 12pm.

Join John Douglas and Leslie Matthews at their home.

148 Cheek Rd.

Nashville, Tn 37205

Windsong Garden is a retreat where we have created an environment focused on reflection, serenity and relaxation. We have combined over 350 varieties of hosta and over 400 varieties of daylilies with perennials and hydrangeas, as well as our new introduction of native azaleas for spring color and summer texture. Our garden has been featured 4 different times on ‘Volunteer Gardener’.

This year we have completely fenced the backyard and added two more gardens. The first one is at the lower end of the garden with mostly interesting shrubbery. The Second one is a small one on the far side of the house with perennials in deep shade.

          We offer water and food for the birds that reward us with the gift of beauty and entertainment all year long. We provide flowers for the pollinators, especially the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. One of our favorite gardens, the "secret garden", is tucked away in the upper corner providing deep shade for ferns, hosta and spring woodland wildflowers.

Wind and song are present anytime in these gardens. Come and enjoy with us.

If you have questions please email:

Where are the Goldfinches?

We field this question a lot this time of year. Goldfinches are quite different than many of our other feeder birds in that they are frequently on the move. Goldfinches you see for a few days or a week may be miles away tomorrow only to be replaced by a new group shortly thereafter. These movements are even more prominent in the spring. We tend to see more Goldfinches concentrated at feeders in winter as northern populations move south. With migration all but over here in mid-TN we should begin to see good numbers of Goldfinches settling back in to bird feeding stations. So, don’t think that you’ve done something wrong, or think the seed in your feeder is bad, it is normal for Goldfinches to be on the move. Here are a few tips to improve your success with Goldfinches.

Ø Keep your feeders full. Goldfinches prefer to feed as a group and will not find a feeder attractive if it only has one feeder port available to feed from. Top them off regularly.

Ø Check your seed for dampness particularly after rain showers. Simply shake your feeder up and down to see if the seed is dry and loose, or gotten wet and clumped together. Remove only the wet seed. The Aspects brand Quick Clean feeders are a great choice of finch feeders for easy maintenance and cleaning.

Ø Keep feeders clean. Mold is a bad thing to have on your feeders and seed. Really dirty feeders can be detrimental to the birds and be a source for spreading disease. Not to mention making them less desirable. Keep in mind Goldfinches are totally vegetarian. They do not eat insects. So with lots of seed choices available in nature the seed at your feeder better be in tip top condition to compete.

Ø If you have multiple finch feeders we recommend grouping them. Again, they prefer to feed as a group, so it pays to give them that opportunity. The more the merrier.

Goldfinches love sunflower whether in shell or out. Check out our Finch Blend which is Nyjer seed and Fine Sunflower Chips, and the Fine Sunflower Chips which can be used in any finch feeder.Be advised, if using the Finch Blend or Fine Sunflower it is recommended you present the feeder in a squirrel proof manner, like a baffled pole system, for example.

Ornithology Vocabulary Lesson.

Since we are in the breeding season for birds here are a couple of ornithology words to expand your knowledge. They may even help you with the next NY Times Crossword.

Altricial and Precocial

Almost all of us have seen baby songbirds in a nest.We know they are completely dependent on the adults to keep them warm as they are featherless for the first few days and to bring them food while in the nest developing.They are completely helpless and mostly immobile.The adults continue to feed them for weeks even after they have fledged. This is referred to as altricial. Altricial birds include herons, hawks, owls, and most songbirds.

Eastern Blue bird babies just hatched. No feathers and eyes still closed.

Around day 5 eyes will open and feathers start to be seen.

Day 12 birds are fully feathered and still being fed. They will leave the nest any day.

Precocial means young are capable of a high degree of independent activity immediately after hatching. Precocial young typically can move about, have their eyes open and will be covered in down at hatching. They are generally able to walk away from the nest as soon as they have dried off. They will also begin searching for their own food. Examples of precocial birds include most duck species, Wild Turkey, Quail, and Killdeer. Video of Baby Killdeer