Bird Species of the World's Boreal Forests


Nycticorax nycticorax
Black-crowned Night Heron


Distinguishing Features - This heron has a stocky body, with a comparatively short neck and legs. Length: average 58 - 72 cm, females averaging slightly smaller. The adult has distinctive coloring, with black cap, upper back and scapulars; gray wings, rump and tail; and white to pale gray underparts. Bill, stout and black; eyes, red. For most of the year, the legs of the adult are yellow-green, but by the height of the breeding season, they become pink.

Black-crowned Night Heron Habitat

The black-crowned night heron is found across North America from Washington State, up to Canadian prairies and through to Quebec's Gaspé region, wintering south through coastal Mexico, as well as Central America and the Carribean. Black-crowned night herons are associated with large wetlands. They inhabit a variety of wetland habitats such as swamps, streams, rivers, marshes, mud flats and the edges of lakes that have become overgrown with rushes and cattails. The Old World race 'nycticorax' occurs from Europe to Japan, Africa and India.


An opportunistic feeder, its diet consists mainly of fish; also leeches, earthworms, water and land insects; frequently crayfish, mussels, squid, amphibians, lizards, snakes, rodents, birds, eggs, carrion, plant materials, and garbage and refuse at landfills. It is usually a solitary forager, and it strongly defends its feeding territory. The night heron prefers to feed in shallow waters, where it grasps its prey with its bill instead of stabbing it. A technique called 'bill vibrating' is used; it is the opening and closing of the bill rapidly in water which creates a disturbance to lure prey.


Black-crowned night herons are social at all times of the year, associating with other species of herons frequently. In the winter, it roosts communally. It is a migrating species. The normal call is a 'Qua,' 'Quak,' or 'Quark.' These calls are most often given in flight or from a perch. The fact that this night heron feeds throughout the night means that it avoids competition with day herons which use the same habitat.

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