The Little Blue Heron, like most (all?) herons and egrets, flies with its neck bent and its head drawn in close to the body so that it sometimes appears neckless but always looks like a heron.  Except sometimes they don’t.  This was the downfall of an extremely competent New York City birder who recently saw a large wading bird fly by at a distance at Jamaica Bay with its neck extended.  Excited by what he perceived as a Sandhill Crane, an exceptionally good bird anywhere in New York City, he rattled off a couple of long range shots and posted to the listserv about his find.  Other birders, smelling blood, moved in for the kill and the bird was revealed to be a Little Blue Heron flying with its neck extended for some unknown reason.

Little Blue Heron flying as they normally do, with the neck bent and the head by the body.

Now, herons and egrets are known to sometimes fly with their necks extended when they are landing, taking off, on a short flight, or stressed.  But for a heron to be flying along for any distance with its neck extended is odd, which explains the identification error.  So you can imagine my surprise when, on a recent visit to Jamaica Bay, I too saw a Little Blue Heron fly past with its neck extended.  It took me a full four or five seconds to figure out what I was seeing and the bird was out of sight by the time I thought to take a picture.  I was extremely pleased to be given a second chance a week later and I didn’t blow this one.

Little Blue Heron flying with its neck extended

Observant birders will notice that the bird is pitched forward and looks like it might be heading in for a landing but it didn’t land and really didn’t look like it meant to. I spotted it flying over the West Pond from the south side of the pond and these shots were taken as it crossed the trail and headed over the south marsh and then curved east towards the East Pond.  The entire time it was in sight, for at least thirty seconds but likely longer, it had its neck extended.  Odd, no?

the Little Blue Heron just before it curved off towards the East Pond

So, birders, why is this happening?  Is this just one bird with some kind of injury?  Is this at all normal?  Your thoughts?  I’m not crazy for finding this weird, am I?

a Little Blue Heron flying as it should

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.