“The Yellow-crowned Heron, which is one of the handsomest species of its tribe, is called ‘Cap-cap’ by the Creoles of Lower Louisiana. . . . This species is by no means entirely nocturnal,” reported Audubon. In his watercolor, JJA depicted an adult male in “spring plumage” above an immature bird, perched in a dead tree entwined with smilax. He gave the length of the adult as twenty-three and a half inches to the end of the tail, with a wingspan of forty-three and a half inches. Craning his neck, the adult calls out to the callow, coiled juvenile, who perches rather precariously on one extended leg. Is he issuing a warning note or scolding this inexperienced adolescent whose toes do not grasp the branch on which he balances?
Audubon wrote that the model for the young bird was one he had procured in October, while the model for the adult male was shot by his friend, Dr. John Bachman. By noting that the smilax plant was by “Miss Martin,” he pinpointed the location of its execution to Charleston, South Carolina (Maria Martin was the “amiable sister-in-law” of the Reverend Bachman and later his wife). JJA also related that another bird “was, when opened next morning, found to have swallowed a terrapin, measuring about an inch and a half in length, by one in breadth. It was still alive, and greatly surprised my companions as well as myself by crawling about when liberated.” The three white plumes of the adult male are separate pieces of paper, which Audubon collaged onto the sheet.
This chunky gray heron—denizen of eastern cypress swamps, mangroves, bayous, marshes, and streams in the United States and South America—has a cry resembling a high-pitched quark. So vivid is JJA’s characterization that one can almost hear that call issuing from the adult bird.