Black-Crowned Night Heron Fact File

Nycticorax nycticorax

Credit: Public Domain








Wild 10-15 years

Captive 10-15 years



Insects, Fish, Frogs

Conservation Status


Least Concern

Black crowned night herons are named for a cap of black feathers which will sit on top of the body most of which is covered by grey feathers.

These animals are carnivores and will sit at the water's edge where they will seek out invertebrates, fish, frogs and small animals.

A pair will care for their chicks in the nest which is a small platform in the trees. Other birds may deposit chicks in their nest and the pair will care for these as if they are their own.

They are affected by the destruction of their wetlands, pesticide contamination and hunting for food or traditional medicines.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.


What does the black-crowned night heron look like?

Across their body the black-crowned night heron has grey feathers. Their name is taken from the crown of black feathers on top of the head. At the back of the neck are plumes of white feathers.

These animals have a sturdy black colored bill. Their eyes are colored red.

Their legs and feet are colored yellow but will become redder at the beginning of the breeding season.

An average black-crowned night heron will measure 64cm (25in) long with a weight between 500 and 800g (18-29oz). Males tend to be larger than the females.


What does the black-crowned night heron eat?

Black-crowned night herons are carnivores. They will feed on fish, crustaceans, invertebrates, frogs, small mammals and birds. These birds are opportunistic feeders and will take carrion or garbage at landfills.

They may feed on chicks of other species of heron.

When hunting these birds will stand at the water's edge and wait to ambush prey which comes past.

To lure prey to them they may place their beak in the water and shake it rapidly which mimics the common food sources of these fish. To kill prey they will shake it rapidly.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Credit: Public Domain


Where can you find the black-crowned night heron?

These birds nest on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. Vagrants are occasionally seen in Australia.


What kind of environment does the black-crowned night heron live in?

These birds occur in wetland habitats such as swamps, rivers, marshes and mud flats.

They may be found in fresh, brackish or saline water.

-- AD --


How does the black-crowned night heron produce its young?

Their nest is built in a tree or shrub. It is a flimsy platform formed from sticks. They will nest in colonies made up of similar species along other herons, egrets and ibis. At the colony each tree may support up to 12 birds.

Males will make use of the same nest year-on-year regardless of whether they mate with the same female.

To attract a mate a male will create a hiss. He also bows and raises his feather plumes. Newly formed pairs will groom one another and engage in mutual billing.

Once mating is complete the male will begin to present sticks to the female.

A female will deposit between 3 and 4 eggs though as many as 7 have been recorded. The eggs are colored pale green but fade in color as they are incubated.

Both parents are involved in caring for the young. They will regurgitate food for the young. They first move around in the nest at 4 weeks old and can fly by 6 weeks old. They begin to travel with their parents soon after this.

These birds may interbreed with the closely related rufous night heron to produce a hybrid.

Other birds may sneak chicks in to their nest and the pair will raise these as if they were their own.

Sexual maturity is reached by three years old around the same time they develop their adult plumage. Until this time they will have gray-brown feathers on the head, chest and underside. This may be streaked with white.


What does the black-crowned night heron do with its day?

These birds are as their name suggests active at night or dusk. Their vision is well adapted to help them see during reduced light conditions. They may move to being active by day during the breeding season or if the weather is unusual.

When not active they will roost in a tree.

Much of their foraging is undertaken on their own but they will nest in a colony.

The vocalization of these birds is a harsh call which is similar to that of a crow.

Animals which live in the North of the range will be migratory moving around based on the weather.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the black-crowned night heron?

If chicks are disturbed by a predator they will regurgitate their food.

Numbers of the black-crowned night heron are decreasing. The total population is estimated at between 570,000 and 3,730,000.

They are facing threats such as drainage or destruction of wetlands in their range. These animals are also affected by pesticide. Contamination has been caused by some substances in their environment and can cause genetic damage to the chicks.

In some areas of their range these animals are taken for food and use in traditional medicines.

Quick facts

In parts of their range they are known simply as the night heron. Across their range these birds may be known as some variation on the word "quark."

Their scientific name, Nycticorax, means "night raven.'

Four subspecies of the black-crowned night heron are recognized.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Credit: Public Domain


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Alderton, D. and Barrett, P., 2019. The complete illustrated encyclopedia of birds of the world. Lorenz Books.

Oceanwide Expeditions. 2021. Black-Crowned Night Heron. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 November 2021]. 2021. Black-crowned Night Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax - NatureWorks. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 November 2021].

Bird Fact. 2021. Black-crowned Night Heron Bird Facts (Nycticorax nycticorax). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 November 2021]. 2021. Black-crowned Night Heron | Chesapeake Bay Program. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 November 2021].

Audubon. 2021. Black-crowned Night-Heron. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 November 2021].

Thai National Parks. 2021. Nycticorax nycticorax, Black-crowned night heron. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 November 2021].

Ivory, A. 2002. "Nycticorax nycticorax" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 28, 2021 at

BirdLife International. 2019. Nycticorax nycticorax (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T22697211A155515762. Downloaded on 28 November 2021.

Most Popular Animal this Week

Credit: Under License

Redbubble Store.

Similar Species

Grey Heron
Scarlet Ibis

Latest bird news stories

Magellanic penguin Chick at Potter Park Zoo
Potter Park Zoo Hatch Magellanic Penguin Chick
Secretary Bird Chick San Antonio Zoo
Incredibly Rare, Secretary Bird Chick Hatches at the San Antonio Zoo


Copyright The Animal Facts 2023

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap