The most widespread heron species in the world, the black-crowned night-heron can be found on five continents. Its elusive behavior and secretive habits, however, often make it hard to see, and when it visits backyard ponds or roosts in trees, it is often mistaken for a raptor.
Black-Crowned Night-Heron, Night Raven, Night-Heron, Quok
- Bill: Thick, long, black but may also show yellow
- Size: 25-28 inches long with 45-inch wingspan, stocky build, short tail
- Colors: Black, white, gray, yellow, red, brown
- Markings: Genders are similar with a black crown, nape and back, white forehead and white underparts. The wings and tail are gray, and a gray wash is visible on the sides of the neck. Legs and feet are yellow with long toes. Eyes are bright red. Breeding adults have 2-3 long, thin, white plumes extending from the head down the back. Juvenile birds are brown and white streaked with white spots on brown wings, a yellowish bill and orange eyes.
Fish, mollusks, rodents, eggs, plants, small birds, amphibians (See: Omnivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These small herons prefer brackish or freshwater habitats including ponds, marshes, wetlands, estuaries and slow rivers, particularly if the area includes some taller, thick trees suitable for roosting. They can be found year-round in coastal areas of California and Mexico, as well as along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts from Texas to New Jersey. During the summer breeding season, these birds extend more thoroughly across the United States and south-central Canada, but are absent from the most heavily forested areas and dry, open plains. In winter, the North American populations migrate to Baja, Mexico, Central America and as far as Argentina and Chile in South America. Around the world, black-crowned night-herons are found in similar habitats in Europe, Asia, Africa and Indonesia.
These birds are not often heard but do have a low, gutteral “wok” or “wawhk” call that sounds similar to a honk and can be repeated at short intervals. Young birds are frequently heard begging in the nest.
True to their name, these herons are largely nocturnal and are most active in the late evening and at night, when they forage in the same habitats larger egrets and herons would use during the day. When roosting, they can be found high in trees, often in communal roosts, though they typically hunt alone. They are patient foragers and will stand still and poised in a hunch or crouch waiting for prey to come near, and they grasp their prey with their bills rather than stab it.
Black-crowned night-herons are monogamous birds that often form community nesting colonies with other herons or ibises. Their platform-shaped nests are made from sticks, twigs and reeds and lined with finer material and grasses, and may be built on the ground or up to 150 feet high in trees. The 1-7 eggs per brood are pale blue-green, and both parents incubate the eggs for 22-26 days. The young birds remain in the nest and are cared for by both parents for an additional 26-28 days, after which they will follow their parents to learn how to forage. Only one brood is raised per year.
Black-crowned night-herons have been known to hybridize with tricolored herons.
Because of their widespread range, these birds are not considered threatened and no extraordinary conservation measures are necessary to ensure their survival. As small herons, they are also more adaptable to minor wetland areas and can frequently be found in suburban or urban habitats that cannot support larger herons or egrets.
Attracting Black-Crowned Night-Herons:
While these are not typical backyard birds, black-crowned night-herons will visit backyards that feature sizable ponds with natural marsh landscaping. They are the most common heron to visit backyards, and may appear in yards anywhere close to their appropriate habitat, such as near a golf course or nature preserve.