• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Nyctanassa violacea ORDER: PELECANIFORMES FAMILY: ARDEIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

While not as slender as a typical heron, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron’s smooth purple-gray colors, sharp black-and-white face, and long yellow plumes lend it a touch of elegance. They forage at all hours of the day and night, stalking crustaceans in shallow wetlands and wet fields. Their diet leans heavily on crabs and crayfish, which they catch with a lunge and shake apart, or swallow whole. They’re most common in coastal marshes, barrier islands, and mangroves, but their range extends inland as far as the Midwest.

Keys to identification Help

Herons
Herons
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are fairly small herons with stocky bodies and short, thick necks, and short legs. They have large, blocky heads with thick, relatively short bills. In flight, the wings are broad and rounded.

  • Color Pattern

    Adults are cloudy gray birds with a bold face pattern: a black head with large white cheek patch, and a creamy yellow crown and head plumes. Immatures are brown with fine white spots on the back and wings; the underparts are streaky. The legs are orange-yellow, brighter in adults.

  • Behavior

    Yellow-crowned Night-Herons slowly stalk prey in or near shallow water, usually alone, with a hunched, forward-leaning posture. They perch quietly on stumps and tree branches, often over water. The majority of their prey is crustaceans, especially crabs and crayfish.

  • Habitat

    They are most common in coastal wetlands barrier islands, saltmarshes, drainage ditches, and mangroves; they also occur inland along bottomland forests, swamps, and sometimes wet lawns or fields.

Range Map Help

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

    Adult
    • Cream-colored stripe on crown, thinner stripe below eye on black face
    • Long yellow legs
    • Red iris
    • Slaty blue-gray body with "shaggy" feathers on back and wings.
    • © Stephen Pollard, Fort Bend County, Texas, July 2010
  • Immature

    Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

    Immature
    • Long neck
    • Thick, dagger-like black bill
    • Body grayish brown with thin white streaks on neck, small white spots on wings
    • Red iris
    • Long, yellow-green legs
    • © Bob Baker, Chincoteague NWR, Assateague Island, Virginia, September 2007
  • Adult catching crab

    Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

    Adult catching crab
    • Bold buff and black striped pattern on head
    • Long white plumes extend from back of head in breeding adults
    • Blue-gray body with "shaggy" feathers on back and wings
    • Long neck
    • Thick black bill
    • © Phillip Simmons, Key Vista Park, Holiday, Florida, January 2011
  • Adult

    Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

    Adult
    • Breeding adults have long white plumes extending from back of the head
    • Stout black bill
    • Long yellow legs
    • Bold buffy stripe on crown, more yellow towards bill
    • Thinner buffy stripe below eye on otherwise black face
    • © Rene Odeide, Parque Central, San Juan, Puerto Rico, December 2010
  • Immature

    Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

    Immature
    • Thin white streaks on neck, with small white spots and white edges on wings
    • Long green-yellow legs
    • Thick black bill
    • Red iris
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Laredo, Texas, September 2010
  • Adult breeding

    Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

    Adult breeding
    • Wispy white plumes extend from back of crown in breeding adults
    • Long yellow legs
    • Long neck
    • Long, silvery-gray neck
    • Shaggy darker feathers on back and wings
    • © Laurel Williams/GBBC, Miami, Florida
  • Immature

    Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

    Immature
    • Long neck with thin white streaks
    • Red iris
    • Stout black bill
    • Small, pale spots on wings and back
    • © John Reeves/GBBC, Houston, Texas
  • Immature transitioning to adult

    Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

    Immature transitioning to adult

Similar Species

Similar Species

Black-crowned Night-Herons have subtle shape differences compared to Yellow-crowned, including a more sharply pointed bill, a slightly shorter neck, and shorter legs that in flight don’t extend as far past the tail as in Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. Adult Black-crowned Night-Herons have a solid black cap and gray face without a cheek patch; they are also black on the back where Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are gray. Immature Black-crowned Night-Herons have broad spots and streaks on the back and wings, and broad streaks on the breast compared to the Yellow-crowned’s smaller, more distinct spots and streaks. American Bitterns are more likely to be found in reedy freshwater marshes; they lack the boldly spotted upperparts of immature night-herons.

Find This Bird

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are especially common in coastal areas, but you can also find them inland along wooded river valleys as well as in open habitats such as wet lawns and golf courses. Look for them foraging on the ground, often along tidal creeks, where they stand still or walk slowly with a hunched-over posture. Scan with binoculars or a spotting scope across saltmarshes and look for the bold yellow-and-black patterning of the bird’s head emerging from a gap in the vegetation. Nesting birds can be well hidden in trees and may occur with other heron species. These birds are often active at night, so keep an eye out at dusk and dawn for night-herons commuting from roosts to foraging areas. During late summer and fall, young birds often wander north and west of their normal range—so be on the lookout.

×

Search

Or Browse Bird Guide by Family, Name or Shape
×
bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.

×

The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.