National Geographic : 1914 May
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (Nycticorax neevius neevius). Length, about 24 inches. The black crown distin guishes it from its relative, the yellow-crowned night heron. Range: Breeds from northern Oregon, southern Wyoming, southern Manitoba, and central Quebec south to Patagonia; winters from northern Cali fornia and Gulf States southward. Given for a roosting place a suitable stand of leafy trees, especially evergreens, conveniently near a stream or pond that harbors fish, frogs and tad poles, and any locality may have its colony of night herons. As its name implies, this heron is a bird of the night, not leaving its roost till dusk when, with frequent iteration of its hoarse quawk, it wings its way in the gathering gloom straight to its feeding place. So rarely is the bird about in daylight that a large colony may exist for years near a town or large city, and not above a dozen individuals have an inkling of its existence. True to its sociable instincts, the night heron by preference nests in colonies, and several pairs often place their rude nests of sticks in the same tree; or, in the absence of trees, as in the extensive tule swamps of the far west, where other conditions are ideal for herons, they nest on the ground or on the prostrate tules, hundreds of pairs being associated together. This heron sometimes feeds on field mice, but it eats too many fish to please the fishculturist, and after it has once learned the way to a hatchery strong measures are needed to discourage its activities. HERRING GULL (Larus argentatus). Length, about 24 inches. Deep pearl gray above; much of rest of plumage white. Not readily distin guished in life from its allies. Range: Breeds in Alaska and in Arctic regions south to southern British Columbia, southern Alberta, northern North Dakota, central Wisconsin, southern Ontario, northern New York, and Maine; winters from southern British Columbia to Lower California and western Mexico, and from Gulf of St. Lawrence and Great Lakes south to Bahamas, Yucatan, and coast of Texas. All things considered, the herring gull is probably the best known of the family by reason of its abundance and wide distribution. Moreover, this is the gull most frequently noticed by passengers as it follows in the wake of our ocean and trans-Atlantic steamers. It breeds no farther south than the coast of Maine, but in winter it is very numerous along the Atlantic coast and in many of our inland ponds. It does excellent service as a scavenger in our harbors, venturing fearlessly among the shipping to secure anything edible that may find its way overboard. The services of this and other gulls in such a capacity are so valuable that their destruction under any pretense is to be deprecated. When the craze for feathered hat gear was at its height thousands of gulls, without regard to species, were killed for millinery purposes, but it is to be hoped that, now the sale of their feathers is illegal practically every where in the United States, the gulls will rapidly increase. (See Biol. Surv. Bul. 17, pp. 53, 80.) GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias and sub-species). Length, from 42 to 50 inches. Range: Breeds from the southern Canadian provinces south to southern Lower California, southern Mexico and South Atlantic States; winters from Oregon, the Ohio Valley and Middle States south to the West Indies, Panama and Venezuela. When one sees a large bluish bird, with long neck and stilt-like legs, standing motionless by river, pond or lake, or slowly wading in the shallows, he may be sure he has before him the great blue heron, and a notable bird he is in many ways. Wary as this heron is and keen to scent danger, he offers so tempt ing a mark as he wings his way slowly along, with head and neck drawn in against the body and long legs trailing behind, or as he stands motionless watching for game, that he is frequently shot "just for the fun of it." This wanton taking of life is never justifiable, but when the life cut short represents so much beauty and grace as are embodied in this stately bird, the crime seems doubly heinous. Naturally this heron is much less common than he used to be. Small fish, frogs, tadpoles, and snakes form the bulk of his food, and in some regions he is a deter mined foe of mice and gophers, and the sight of a heron in the midst of a dry pasture or in a stubble field watching for a gopher to emerge from his hole is very common. (See Biol. Surv. Bul. 31, p. 52; also Bul. 17, p. 217 .) COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo). Length, about 15 inches. The pearl-gray breast and belly distinguish the adult of this tern from its relatives. The outer web of the outer tail feathers is darker than the inner web; the reverse is true of Forster's Tern, its nearest ally. Range: Breeds from Great Slave Lake, central Keewatin and southern Quebec south to southwest ern Saskatchewan, northern North Dakota, southern Wisconsin, northern Ohio and North Carolina; winters from Florida to Brazil. Our common tern is, alas, common no longer. The Atlantic coast is peculiarly fitted to be the home of the terns by reason of the extensive shallows and the great number of sandy islands on which terns and gulls used to breed in absolute safety. At the bidding of fashion, however, thousands of these beautiful creatures were slaughtered till the sand was red with their blood and island colonies that used to number thousands were exterminated. No excuse serves to palliate the crime of the wholesale murder of these graceful sea swallows, as they are aptly termed, which used to make our shores so attractive by their presence. But the tide seems to have turned, partly at least. The Government has set aside islands as breeding resorts and places of refuge and, through the activity of Audubon Societies and of individual workers, a certain measure of safety seems now assured to these persecuted birds. It may even prove possible, by the bird sanctuary plan, to increase their numbers again and make them a familiar sight along our deserted shores. Could the sentiment of the women of the United States be united for their protection, all doubt as to the future of these beautiful creatures would be re moved, but so long as the arbiter of Fashion decrees feathers on hats, so long will the eternal vigilance of their friends be needed to assure the safety of the small remnant of this species and its kindred.