While driving in Camden last week, I spotted a dark mass lodged in the crotch of a tall stand of birch and alders. Partially obscured by snow, the mysterious lump appeared to be the feathered corpse of a sizeable bird. With its leg and foot dangling, and sinuous neck extended in a downward angle, was it possibly a great blue heron? I’d navigated this highway on innumerable occasions without taking notice. Stopping, I did some brief detective work. The heron had apparently exited a nearby quarry and gotten entangled in webbed tree branches. Its elevated position seemed too high to have been placed there by some human passerby. Herons will often shift around after dark, seeking different roosting or feeding locations. On quiet summer nights, you may hear their deep-throated “quawks!” overhead.

In Bristol, I once encountered an even stranger heron outcome. That unfortunate bird had managed to hang itself from a high utility wire during the night. While passing above the highway, the bird had struck the wire head-on. The heron’s forward momentum had caused its neck to loop entirely around the wire, leaving him suspended in space.

Nighttime flight maneuvers undoubtedly have built-in perils. An ironic situation, involving a yellow-crowned night-heron, resulted on Monhegan Island a few falls ago. Approaching the northern limits of their nesting range, yellow-crowned herons are uncommon in Maine but, with gradual range expansions, they’re becoming somewhat routine in coastal sections of the state.

Having seen several herons at the perimeter of the island’s Ice Pond the prior day, I trod the trail at dawn. Herons frequently roosted among the immense spruces, but a surprise waited ahead — the limp body of a juvenile heron that lay at the base of a tree. Its pristine feathers showed no visible signs of injury. What had caused its demise? Closer inspection revealed that a stiff branch had poked through its eye socket! Equipped with such superior low-light vision, the heron had fallen victim of a lethal night obstacle.

Perhaps two ill-fated eaglets top my gallery list of nighttime avian mishaps. For several weeks, I had observed an eagle pair feeding two rapidly maturing chicks. By late May, the eaglets were fully feathered and easily observable within the bowl of the massive stick nest. Much too young to fly, they would fledge from the nest in seven to eight weeks. At this point, the chicks were closely attended and guarded by either of the adults most of the time. One morning I was puzzled, however, when neither of the adults was anywhere in the vicinity. Carefully scanning the nest with a spotting scope, I saw neither of the eaglets either. Were the eaglets simply scooched and out of sight? This eerie morning scene suggested nest abandonment, but I would follow up later.

Following two more days of negative results, I visited the riverside site. There I discovered a chilling conclusion: both eaglets hung lifelessly by their necks, a few feet below the nest rim. Something had obviously pushed the flightless juveniles to evacuate the nest. Maybe an aerial attack from above? Had a night-roaming raccoon climbed up there? Did a hungry great horned owl attack the nest? It is notable that a parent eagle would have been present during any night attacks. And, reportedly, the female eagles (formidably larger and more powerful than the smaller males) maintain nest security during overnight periods.

And now, worthy readers, I’ll leave further speculation to you. Some may have witnessed similar happenings.