Maybe it’s the Monongahela River, or the healthier environment, or perhaps the plethora of cicadas that account for a rare immature yellow-crowned night heron spending nearly three weeks frequenting the grounds of an industrial building in Duquesne.
“What a curious bird,” said Bob Mulvihill, ornithologist with the National Aviary.
It’s one of the few sightings of the bird in Allegheny County, although both the yellow-crowned and black-crowned night herons have been reported in the past in Butler County.
The yellow-crowned night heron is known to nest in some select locations only in the eastern part of the state, according to the “Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania,” co-authored by Mulvihill.
Mulvihill and his son watched the two-foot-tall , finely streaked brown and white heron fly from the McKeesport area of the Monongahela River and land on top of the American Textiles Co. building in Duquesne Tuesday evening.
“It hopped in the grass, started foraging and gobbling up cicadas,” said Mulvihill. “My son saw it fly into street trees, picking cicadas off of branches.”
The yellow-crowned night heron nests in urban areas including near the city of Harrisburg. Mulvihill has seen a nest above a residential driveway.
That bird, along with other herons and egrets do post-breeding wandering before they migrate to the south for the fall, according to Mulvihill.
But what accounts for the bird staying in the Duquesne area for almost three weeks? “I thought it would have been gone by now,” Mulvihill said.
Could be the cicadas, he admitted.
Mulvihill said he learned about the bird through an email from a Pittsburgh-area resident, Nancy Scialabba, on Aug. 14. The woman knew the bird was different and was concerned for its safety, according to Mulvihill. Scialabba told him the bird had been in the Duquesne area since Aug. 5, and that the heron even had a favorite “perch tree” by now.
If the heron hatched from an undetected nest, that would be significant, he said.
“I don’t think there’s a confirmed nesting record in western Pennsylvania,” he said.
How long will it stay? Who is to say? Maybe as long as the cicadas hold out.