Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron


Worldwide except Australia, northern forest and tundra belts. In the Americas, southern Canada to the Falkland Islands.


Inhabit a wide variety of areas, near fresh and salt water, brackish marshes, shallow tidal creeks, edges of ponds, and swamps which include pools. They nest in forest, woods or swamp habitats, in trees, bushes, reeds or on the ground. Their hunting grounds may be several miles from the nesting area.


Males and females are similar in appearance. They are medium sized, stocky, with a crested head, thick neck, and a heavy black bill. There are three color phases. Birds attain adult plumage in the third year. The color is black on the crown and back, the wings and tail are grey, and the underparts are white. The eyes are large and red, and the legs are yellow. The voice is a very distinctive loud barking "Quawk." During the breeding season, the black coloring turns glossy black-green, the legs turn red or pink, and the head plumes grow to almost 10 inches long. An intermediate stage (in the 2nd year) is brownish. Immature birds (hatchlings to over one year) are spotted buff and brown, resembling bitterns, with pale olive and brown streaks below, and pale yellow to orange eyes. The coloring of the young birds provides protection, and they blend in so well with the background color of their surroundings that the colony may appear to contain only adult birds.

Black-crowned Night Heron

These herons spend much of the day hunched and inactive, and feed mostly at dusk or evening. When they hunt for food, they move about briskly, holding their heads lowered and necks curved, ready for the quick strike that means death to their prey. They are highly gregarious in all seasons, and up to several hundred mating pairs and groups of young birds collect in an isolated patch of woods during the nesting period. They build large, loosely constructed nests of branches, canes, or twigs. Colonies often contain other species of birds.


Mating behavior includes a variety of threats and snapping displays plus preening, raising the feathers of the crown, breast, throat, and back, and fully erecting the head plumes. Clutches are three to six sea-green eggs, laid at intervals of two days. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, which takes 21-26 days. They frequently raise two broods a year, and two sets of young birds may share the nest. Birds sometimes breed in their second year, before they attain adult plumage.

Interesting Facts:

Other generic names: Night heron, American night heron, Qua-bird, Quawk, Swquawk, Gardenian heron. In Japan, they are important in history and folklore.

About Our Animals:

There are two male free-roaming in the Small Animal Building's rainforest.

Did YOU Know?    
They nest locally at Utah's Bear River National Wildlife refuge, where they are commonly seen in the spring and summer.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Class: birds
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Nycticorax
Species: nycticorax
Length: Wingspan averages 45 inches
Height: 23 - 28 inches tall
Weight: 26 - 32 ounces
Average Lifespan: 5
Wild Diet: Fish, frogs, insects, tadpoles, young birds, small mammals, snakes, salamanders, mollusks, crustaceans, marine animals, and vegetable matter such as algae.
Predators: Raptors and corvidae (ravens, crows) prey on eggs and young. Men are their worst enemies. Much of their habitat is being lost, and because the birds often raid fish hatcheries, they are sometimes considered pests and killed.
USFWS Status: Not Listed
CITES Status: Not Listed
Where at the Zoo? Small Animal Building: Rainforest

Learn more about birds or animals from North America!
Or, cross-reference the two!