Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

(aka. Night Heron, Black-Crowned Night-Heron, Héron bihoreau)

Nycticorax nycticorax

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiformes
Family: Ardeidae (Herons, Bitterns)
Scientific Name (Genus species): Nycticorax nycticorax
Species Authority: (Linnaeus, 1758)

Black Crowned Night Heron Identification
Black Crowned Night Heron Juvenile

Juvenile: Dark greyish-brown with flecks of light brown on wings and back; white breast with flecks of light brown.   White feathers on head may stick up from wind to resemble spiked hair (see photo).   Juveniles are very similar in appearance to the (less common) Yellow-Crowned Night Herons, but can be easily differentiated when in flight as only the feet of the Black-Crowned Night Heron extend past the tail; much of the legs extend beyond the tail of the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron3.  Juveniles may also resemble American Bitterns4.

black crowned night heron adult
Black-crowned Night Heron (adult)

Adult:  Black crown (hence the name) and black back with contrasting grey wings and white breast. The upper beak is black, and their short legs are yellow to pinkish.  Note that their neck and legs are much shorter in comparison to a Great Blue Heron.

 Range: Black-Crowned Night Herons have the largest range of any heron in the world,; they inhabit all continents with exception of Australia and Antarctica1.  For a full list of countries, visit the IUCN species page (second reference at the bottom of this page).

Mostly fish eaters (freshwater and saltwater), but also consume many other small animals found near their habitat  They have been known to consume adult and larval insects (beetles, bugs, dragonflies, damselflies, grasshoppers, crickets, flies,etc.), bats, chicks and eggs of other bird species, crustaceans, frogs, leeches, lizards, molluscs, rodents, snakes, spiders, tadpoles, and turtles2.

Behavior: You can often spot these herons near the edge of a water body at dusk and dawn.  Their stillness may make an onlooker wonder if they are a heron or a statue of a heron that someone place in the water.   Their voice is a loud “quawk”4.

Nesting: Black-crowned Night Herons are annual nesters that produce 3-6 young4.  Eggs are a blue-green color.

Species Status: The IUCN Status of the Black-crowned Night Heron is Least Concern2 due to its large international range and healthy breeding population.  This population range is estimated to be between 510,000-3,600,000 birds2.   Black-crowned Night Heron experienced some population declines due to biomagnification of DDT inside this top predator in the 1960s in North America, but appear to not be hindered by DDT today on this continent1.  Globally, the population is declining slightly, but not enough to the meet the criteria for assessing the species status as vulnerable2.  Conservation of wetlands, regulation of pesticides (organophosphates, carbamates, and DDE/DDT), and monitoring outbreaks of Avian Flu and Newcastle disease are important for the conservation of this species2.   Birds are killed near aquaculture facilities in some parts of the world to prevent income loss2, and the young are poached for food in Madagascar2.   Some are also sold at traditional medicine markets in Nigeria2.


  1. Hothem, Roger L., Brianne E. Brussee and William E. Davis, Jr. 2010. Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: doi:10.2173/bna.74
  2. BirdLife International 2012. Nycticorax nycticorax. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. <>. Downloaded on 20 October 2013.
  3. Reader’s Digest (1982). North American Wildlife. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest Association
  4. Bull, J., Farrand, J. The Audubon Society for North American Birds – Eastern Region. New York: Alfred A. Knof, Inc.

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