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

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A nocturnal heron of the southern swamps and coasts, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron can also be found breeding along wooded streams northward to Indiana and Illinois.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
21.7–27.6 in
55–70 cm
22.9–28.2 oz
650–800 g
Other Names
  • Bihoreau violace (French)
  • Pedrete enmascarado, Chicuaco enmacarado (Spanish)



Yellow-crowned Night-Herons live in or near wetlands—on the coast along islands, mangroves, and barrier beaches; farther inland in wooded swamps, forested uplands, and lakes and rivers, sometimes near residential areas. They usually nest in small colonies, sometimes with other wadiing birds, and forage along tidal marshes, in tide pools and the shores of water bodies where crustaceans are abundant.



The great majority of the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron's diet consists of crustaceans. They eat many kinds of crabs, including blue, ghost, and fiddler crabs, as well as crayfish. Other prey include insects, fish, snails, earthworms, marine worms, and leeches. Occasionally they've been found eating lizards, snakes, young birds, mice, and small rabbits.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–6 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
2–2.2 in
5.1–5.7 cm
Egg Width
1.4–1.8 in
3.6–4.6 cm
Incubation Period
24–25 days
Nestling Period
25–35 days
Egg Description
Pale blue-green
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, covered in pale gray down; eyes open after 1 day.
Nest Description

Both sexes help build the nest, which can be as high as 60 feet or so, away from the trunk on a horizontal limb, often hanging over water. The female stands on the nest site while the male carries sticks to her as part of the pair-bonding process. As the nest comes along, the female begins to gather sticks as well—the birds typically strip sticks from the limbs of dead trees rather than gathering them from the ground. Sticks can be up to about 2 feet long and 1 inch thick. The twig nest is sometimes lined with leaves, vines, or Spanish moss. The nest takes about 11 days to build initially, night-herons use them for several years, adding to them each year. Nests can be 4 feet across, with just a shallow depression inside for the eggs.

Nest Placement


Yellow-crowned Night-Herons typically nest in small colonies of several pairs up to several hundred pairs on islands that are safe from predators. Colony sites can remain in use for more than 20 years. Nest sites are near water in trees such as pine, oak, wax myrtle, and red mangrove.



Foraging birds stand still or slowly stalk crabs and other prey along shorelines, marshes, and fields. Once in striking range they lunge at their prey and seize it in their bill. They swallow small prey whole, but often shake apart, crush, or spear larger prey. They forage on their own, typically keeping other individuals at a distance of 15 feet or more. Courting Yellow-crowned Night-Herons make display flights around their colonies, sometimes with the neck conspicuously extended. Courting pairs make a neck-stretching display, slowly raising and then quickly pushing the head back between its shoulders, while fanning the long shoulder plumes. Males do this first and females sometimes follow.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are protected in some states near the edge of their range. They're more difficult to survey than many other wading birds (because they are dark-colored and nest in small colonies), but in general seem to have stable populations. Like all wetland birds they are vulnerable to habitat loss or degradation. Nine Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were collected in 2010 during the response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Historically, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were hunted for their plumes or as a delicacy.


  • Watts, B. D. 1995. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea). In The Birds of North America, No. 161 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists¿ Union, Washington, D.C.

Range Map Help

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


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.