Black-crowned Night-Heron

Nycticorax nycticorax




Bitterns, Herons and Egrets (Ardeidae)

Code 4


Code 6



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Breeding Location:

Lakes, Forest edge, Marshes, freshwater, Swamps, Rivers

Breeding Type:

Monogamous, Colonial

Breeding Population:

Stable or increasing in most areas

Egg Color:

Pale green or light blue

Number of Eggs:

1 - 7

Incubation Days:

21 - 26

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Material:

Sticks, twigs, and reeds.





Black-crowned Night-Heron: Medium-sized, stocky heron with short neck and legs, black upperparts, gray wings, and white to pale gray underparts. Bill is stout and black, eyes are red, and legs are yellow. Sexes are similar. Breeding adult develops long white plumes on back of head and red legs. Juvenile has brown, white-streaked upperparts, white, brown-streaked underparts, and yellow-green legs.

Range and Habitat

Black-crowned Night-Heron: Breeds in parts of southcentral Canada throughout the U.S. (except Rocky Mountain region) to southern South America. Spends winters in southern half of U.S. Preferred habitats include swamps, streams, rivers, marshes, mud flats, and the edges of lakes that have become overgrown with rushes and cattails.

Breeding and Nesting

Black-crowned Night-Heron: One to seven pale blue or green eggs are laid in a flimsy platform lined with roots and grass, built near the trunk of a tree or in branches. Usually nests in colonies. Incubation ranges from 21 to 26 days and is carried out by both parents.

Foraging and Feeding

Black-crowned Night-Heron: Usually feeds in the evening or early morning. Diet consists of fish, leeches, earthworms, insects, crayfish, mussels, squid, amphibians, lizards, snakes, rodents, birds, eggs, carrion, plant materials, and garbage at landfills. Usually a solitary forager, it strongly defends its feeding territory.


Black-crowned Night-Heron: Call is a loud, barking "kwok" or "quawk" often heard at night or at dusk. Also utters a variety of croaks, barks, and other harsh calls in nesting colonies.

Similar Species

Black-crowned Night-Heron: Adult is unmistakable; immature may be confused with American Bittern or juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. American Bittern lacks pale spots on upperwing, has black neck stripe, and more slender, paler bill. Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron has smaller spots on greater secondary coverts, smaller spots on head and neck, thicker bill, and longer legs.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
Large, conspicuous, showy feathers.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X