State-threatened night herons find refuge in city of Harrisburg / Public News Service
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Some rare birds that have made their home in the great sycamore trees of Harrisburg are taking flight this week.
Yellow-crowned night herons have found an unexpected habitat in the urban Midtown neighborhood of Harrisburg.
The species was declared Endangered by the State in 1999.
Sean Murphy, state ornithologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said the herons were first sighted in Harrisburg around 2013, where they have easy access to the wide and shallow Susquehanna River and are feast on crayfish.
Murphy presented a theory as to why the species ended up in Harrisburg is protection from natural predators.
“And I think maybe in these urban settings, the raccoons and the possums, they’re still there, but it’s almost like they have enough food in the dumpsters and other places that they can find enough food, maybe it’s that they’re not climbing those trees trying to find a bird’s nest, ”explained Murphy.
Murphy pointed out that efforts to improve water quality in the Susquehanna, along with state protection of endangered species, have helped keep night herons safe during mating season.
Migratory birds are normally found in the state capital from April to October.
Jen Hirt, an associate professor of English at Penn State Harrisburg and a resident of Harrisburg, said she became fascinated by herons when she first saw them and now monitors their arrival every year.
Hirt noticed that she noticed that other people in town liked them as well.
“You know, when I think back to 10 years ago, people would see these birds and complain a little bit,” Hirt said. “‘Oh, this bird is so messy, it poops all over my car, it’s really loud.’ But now when I talk to people or post something on one of our social media pages, there’s almost always a better understanding of why we should protect these birds and just let them come back every year. . “
Hirt added that her heron count this year is lower than usual, but she hopes that means they are back on the small islands along the Susquehanna, where they were first spotted in the region in the 1990s.
receive more stories like this by email