Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A juvenile bird

with 33 comments

Juvenile Green Heron 6219

Click for a sharper image.

On September 5th, once again on a seasonal quest for snow-on-the-mountain plants that might already be flowering, I ended up at the same pond in the suburban town of Cedar Park where I photographed a white egret last September. At one point, as I walked through vegetation near an edge of the pond, a young bird jumped out of the brush where it had been hiding and, alarmed by my approach, jumped into shallow water, where it hopped and flapped its wings but apparently couldn’t yet fly. It didn’t seem to want to head out into deeper water but stayed in the shallows and moved parallel to the shore to get away from me. It didn’t move very fast, though, and I easily kept up and even got ahead of it. Several times we came to a standoff, literally, with me standing near the shore and the bird standing in shallow water. After a while I walked away because I figured the little bird had dealt with enough for one day; too bad I couldn’t convey the message that I wasn’t a predator and it wasn’t in any danger. By the way, although the telephoto lens might make you think I could have reached out and touched the bird, I was probably never closer to it than a couple of yards (meters).

After I got home, I looked through a few references but wasn’t able to identify the bird, so I turned to Nan Hampton. She consulted with Chris Haran (thanks, both of you) and they thought the juvenile was probably a green heron, though they left open the possibility of an American bittern. (And speaking of green herons, Steve Gingold posted an excellent picture showing one, along with its reflection, in his nature photography blog in July; just click the picture to make it much larger.)

And so ends this description of my close encounter of the avian kind.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 7, 2013 at 6:05 AM

33 Responses

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  1. That’s a sweet looking bird, but to us herons are fearful. That’s because they love our koi pond and the beautiful koi are tasty treats to herons.

    • I can see where that would present a problem for you and even dispose you not to like herons. Context accounts for so much in the way we view things.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2013 at 6:36 AM

  2. Wonderful capture–colors of the young bird’s feet pushing through the water and moving to the similar color in its eye.


    October 7, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    • Thanks, Sally. It’s good of you to point out the color harmony between the bird’s eye and its feet.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2013 at 7:21 AM

  3. Nice shot. I agree with the choice of heron. The youngster has a nice ‘do’ on top. Typical of kids these days.

    Jim in IA

    October 7, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    • That makes three votes for a green heron. The ‘do’ caught my attention, too. I don’t know to what extent it’s a characteristic of this stage in the life of the species, as opposed to being a feature of this individual bird. Maybe scary me made the hair on its head stand on end.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2013 at 8:06 AM

      • You might be right about the alarm reaction of the ‘do’. I’ve never seen you. But, my mental image of you is not one I’d describe as scary. I hope I’m right.

        Jim in IA

        October 7, 2013 at 8:19 AM

        • Scary is often in the mind of the beholder, and I suspect any human looks scary to a little bird (see how I exonerated myself).

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 7, 2013 at 9:28 AM

  4. I think that’s actually an instance of nest head, quite similar to bed head.

    Mad Queen Linda

    October 7, 2013 at 8:30 AM

    • You get today’s bonus point for coining a term. Now I wonder which kind of bird has the best nest head. (In the other category, I assume redhead bed head is the best, or at least the most euphonious.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2013 at 9:34 AM

  5. Great photo Steve! The identity of this little creature is a mystery to me also…juveniles can be difficult to ID.


    October 7, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    • Thanks, David. Identifying juvenile birds can be difficult for people, but adult birds don’t seem to have any trouble with it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2013 at 9:36 AM

  6. Lovely, nest head and all! I’m guessing Night Heron as well, as even a young bittern will freeze and point its bill straight up to blend in with grass….. and that about sums up my bird knowledge!


    October 7, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    • I don’t have much bird knowledge either, but your comment about the second choice leads me to say: Once bittern, twice shy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2013 at 2:53 PM

  7. My immediate guess was heron, so I’m voting that way too. What a handsome young specimen as well. Fuzz-headed babies of all species are winsome and amusing, with those static styles. In addition to the great yellow repetitions Sally notes, I love the way the chevron or herringbone feather patterns are echoed by the aquatic plants’ patterns and even the Vs of the bird’s feet in this shot.


    October 7, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    • Thanks for pointing out those additional patterns. I can see all these things looking at the image now, but at the time I was so focused (in both senses) on taking pictures that I tuned out most of the details.

      I’m no baby, but my hair still often does what it likes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2013 at 3:29 PM

  8. Green heron it is – a small bird with a big voice! The adults raise their head feathers into a crest when they’re anxious or disturbed. I didn’t realize the young already have the ability to do that.

    I rarely get to see one wading, so this is a special treat. In the marinas, they perch on dock lines and fish from there. They’re quite the acrobats. They can perch on a line a foot above the surface of the water, and when they see a fish, they’ll slowly bend toward the water, getting closer and closer until you’re sure they’re going to fall in face first. But they don’t, and they rarely miss their catch.

    They’ll even “fish” using bait. I’ve seen them bring an insect over to the water, drop it in and then wait for the fish to come after the struggling insect. Smart birds!


    October 7, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    • Thanks for the confirmation and all the additional details about what green herons do. Living as you do near the coast, I imagine you get to see a lot more of birds like this than we do in Austin, although Austin birders may tell me otherwise, as I know so little in that realm.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2013 at 10:35 PM

  9. Wonderful shot. Sure looks like a green heron to me, but I’m not great with the IDs. How lucky you were able to get at least within telephoto range. We had a flock of wild turkeys in the yard today, and while I did get photos, by the time I had the telephoto attached and “snuck” out a side door, they’d got far pretty far away.

    Susan Scheid

    October 7, 2013 at 8:40 PM

    • My luck consisted in the young bird’s being unable to fly away and its reluctance or inability to head out into the deeper water at the center of the pond. I managed to take several dozen photographs, some that came in even closer than this one. I’m sorry your would-be subjects were able to get away.

      I grew up saying snuck too; you might want to read the usage note at


      to see how standard it has become.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2013 at 10:42 PM

  10. I love the picture. It seems the youngster is having a bad hair day.
    It reminds me of what we joking call the adolescent stage of our chickens, when they aren’t exactly chicks anymore but aren’t mature birds either. At that stage they look sort of awkward, as this bird does. 🙂


    October 8, 2013 at 5:40 AM

    • Now we can add your “bad hair day” to Mad Queen Linda’s “bed head.” We see those things as awkward in people, but I wonder if the unruly feathers accomplish anything for the bird.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2013 at 6:07 AM

  11. a very cute one. i’d go with green heron.


    October 8, 2013 at 12:09 PM

  12. Baby birds are so appealing and the gossamer baby feathers still on his head make him look vulnerable.


    October 8, 2013 at 3:15 PM

    • The young bird would have been vulnerable had I been a cat or dog or other predator, but fortunately for the heron it was only me—and my hair can be unruly, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2013 at 3:47 PM

  13. Just lovely! Most definitely a youngster green heron… I’m surrounded by these shy guys! 🙂 Wonderful you got such a great close-up.


    October 9, 2013 at 8:10 AM

    • Thanks for that confirmation from someone in the know. How different your world is if you’re surrounded by these birds; this is the only one I’ve ever knowingly seen.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2013 at 8:21 AM

  14. Nice look at the wader’s feet in the water along with the punkish featherdo, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    October 12, 2013 at 4:02 PM

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