Living Bird Magazine
Black-crowned Night-HeronNycticorax nycticorax
- ORDER: Pelecaniformes
- FAMILY: Ardeidae
Black-crowned Night-Herons are stocky birds compared to many of their long-limbed heron relatives. They’re most active at night or at dusk, when you may see their ghostly forms flapping out from daytime roosts to forage in wetlands. In the light of day adults are striking in gray-and-black plumage and long white head plumes. These social birds breed in colonies of stick nests usually built over water. They live in fresh, salt, and brackish wetlands and are the most widespread heron in the world.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Black-crowned Night-Herons are common in wetlands across North America—you just may have to look a little harder than you do for most herons. True to their name, these birds do most of their feeding at night and spend much of the day hunched among leaves and branches at the water’s edge. Evening and dusk are good times to look for these rather stout, short-necked herons flying out to foraging grounds.
- Martinete Común (Spanish)
- Bihoreau gris (French)
- Cool Facts
- Scientists find it easy, if a bit smelly and messy, to study the diet of young Black-crowned Night-Herons—the nestlings often disgorge their stomach contents when approached.
- Black-crowned Night Heron nest in groups that often include other species, including herons, egrets, and ibises.
- A breeding Black-crowned Night-Heron will brood any chick that is placed in its nest. The herons apparently don’t distinguish between their own offspring and nestlings from other parents.
- Young Black-crowned Night-Herons leave the nest at the age of 1 month but cannot fly until they are 6 weeks old. They move through the vegetation on foot, joining up in foraging flocks at night.
- The familiar evening sight and sound of the Black-crowned Night-Heron was captured in this description from Arthur Bent’s Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds: “How often, in the gathering dusk of evening, have we heard its loud, choking squawk and, looking up, have seen its stocky form, dimly outlined against the gray sky and propelled by steady wing beats, as it wings its way high in the air toward its evening feeding place in some distant pond or marsh!”
- The oldest Black-crowned Night-Heron on record was a female who was at least 21 years, 5 month old.