by Dorothy Kulisek
Proving there’s a silver lining in every dark cloud, one of my biggest blessings during Covid came in the form of new, feathered friends like a special yellow-toed, juvenile yellow crown night heron, and a pair of mallards I named Grace & Peace (something the world could always use more of).
On an otherwise typical day in August, I noticed a baby heron sitting on the fence outside my back door. A few days passed and I realized he was living alone in my neighbor’s tree. Thinking he might be an orphan, I started feeding him Tilapia (as a sort of Welcome to the Neighborhood). Having made a new friend, who looked just like a Henny to me, I lured him over to my bird bath with some fresh minnows (generously donated by Canalside & Grassy Sound Marinas).
For most of his visits, Henny remained the “strong, silent type.” That changed, however, at sunset on Oct. 2, 2020. Henny was suddenly very vocal, flying over top of me from roof to roof, squawking as if he had something very important to say!
I’d grown attuned to this amazing yellow crown night heron, down to knowing this behavior was definitely different from his otherwise predictable ways. Typically every night after sunset, he would fly out to forage, returning just before sunrise. The bird bath was his favorite daytime hang-out spot, with him occasionally retreating to his nest or exploring the neighborhood backyards (having made friends with other food-sharing neighbors, like Tom Boz, declaring Henny loved his hotdogs the most).
On the day of his departure, he was gone all afternoon only to make an appearance at sunset, squawking from the rooftops. At 4 A.M., Henny was outside my bedroom window offering one last goodbye, in the only way he could. He was so loud he woke me up, as if to say, “I’m going! It’s time to take flight and see the world. Thank you, Dorothy, for your kindness and delicious meals! I’ll see you in the spring. Yipppeee. Here I gooooo!!!”
Cape May Bird Observatory reported that Friday night, Oct. 2nd, during a full Harvest Moon, was the biggest flight night for migration recorded (I can only assume Henny made lots of feathered travel friends!)
His behavior was a classic example of what birders call “Zugunruhe,” or the anxious behavior in migratory animals, an increase in activity towards and after dusk with changes in normal sleep patterns and their verbalness.
I’m still awed by how he said goodbye. I believe his squawks were full of thanks and excitement in the full breath of migration. He instinctively knew when it was time, demonstrating once again Mother Nature’s infinite, divine beauty.
The next day, I cried a few times over the joy it brought me to have had the privilege of caring for such a wild bird. Some tears, naturally, were from the mother in me worrying if he was okay.
One thing is certain about that incredible orphan who flew into my life on August 28th…he is a survivor, a much-needed reminder of what we all aspire to be during such challenging times.
As we’ve learned to do this past year, I’ll keep looking heavenward, with a seafood banquet (and maybe a few hotdogs) ready for Henny’s celebrated return to his home by the sea…
At dusk on April 7th, 2021 my favorite couple Grace & Peace showed up asking for dinner and I believe my favorite heron too, up on a neighboring rooftop.
When I called his name “Henny”, he stretched out his neck and looked down at me! Then again on the 28th of April I saw two herons on my roof. (It’s not every day you see herons on top of house roofs…that was a Henny thing.) Then Henny took “Honey” to his tree, and I watched them fly into the sunset. As all good stories must come to an end, I am happy to know they will live happily ever after. . .