Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Night heron

Nycticorax nycticorax
Population size
Life Span
20-30 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
g oz 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is a medium-sized heron found throughout a large part of the world. These birds have a stocky appearance as if hunched over, the head tucked down into the shoulders, and they are usually seen with this posture. They are most active at dusk or at night when their ghostly forms fly from their daytime roosts to the wetlands where they forage.


Adult birds have a black crown and back with the remainder of the body white or grey, red eyes, and short yellow legs. They have pale gray wings and white under parts. Two or three long white plumes, erected in greeting and courtship displays, extend from the back of the head. The sexes are similar in appearance although the males are slightly larger. Black-crowned night herons do not fit the typical body form of the heron family. They are relatively stocky with shorter bills, legs, and necks than their more familiar cousins, the egrets and "day" herons. Their resting posture is normally somewhat hunched but when hunting they extend their necks and look more like other wading birds. Immature birds have dull grey-brown plumage on their heads, wings, and backs, with numerous pale spots. Their underparts are paler and streaked with brown. The young birds have orange eyes and duller yellowish-green legs.




Albania, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Show More Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, DR Congo, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Macao, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Federated States of Micronesia, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Australia, Cape Verde, Denmark, Djibouti, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Maldives, Mongolia, Norway, Sao Tomé and Principe, Seychelles, Sweden, United Kingdom, Afghanistan Show Less

Black-crowned night herons breed on every continent apart from Antarctica and Australasia. In the Americas, it is from Washington to Quebec, through coastal Mexico, and in Central America and the Caribbean. In winter they can be found as far north as the New England states and Oregon. The Old World subspecies occur from Japan to Europe, Africa, and India. This heron lives in a wide range of habitats, from swamps, rivers, and lakes to salt marshes, lagoons, and mudflats. Aquatic and marginal vegetation like mangroves, reed beds, bamboo, and other trees are necessary for nesting and roosting.

Black-Crowned Night Heron habitat map

Climate zones

Black-Crowned Night Heron habitat map
Black-Crowned Night Heron
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Habits and Lifestyle

Black-crowned night herons are social throughout the year, often associating with other species. In the winter, they roost together. A migrating species, it will fly at night and rest during the day. Black-crowned night herons feed by standing still at the water's edge and waiting to ambush prey, mainly at night or early morning. They also engage in bait fishing; luring or distracting fish by tossing edible or inedible buoyant objects into water within their striking range - a rare example of tool use among birds. During the day they rest in trees or bushes. Young leave their perches to huddle in the nest when it is cold. Black-crowned night herons are territorial and will defend their feeding and nesting territories. Their normal call sounds like 'qua,' 'quak,' or 'quark.' Such calls are most often made during flight or when perching.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Black-crowned night herons are carnivorous (piscivorous) birds. They eat primarily fish and other aquatic life including frogs, tadpoles, snakes, turtles, lizards, larvae, and adult forms of insects, spiders, crustaceans, mollusks, small rodents, bats, chicks, and eggs of other bird species.

Mating Habits

varies with location
21-22 days
6-7 weeks
3-5 eggs

Black-crowned night herons seem to be monogamous, with one male mating with only one female. Males perform an elaborate courtship display, which is often at night. It walks about in a crouching position, with its head lowered, clapping its bill. Next, it flaps its wings, singing, and dancing. Once the female accepts, the birds preen each other and touch and clasp each other’s bills. The breeding season varies depending on the range. These birds breed in colonies that may be very big (as many as 5000-6000 pairs in Malaysia). The colonies may include several different species. Nests are made on cliff ledges or in reed beds, tall trees, bushes, or on the ground. 3-5 eggs are laid and two broods per season may be produced. Incubation is for about 21-22 days and both parents brood their young. Chicks leave the nest after two weeks, although they do not go far. By three weeks, they will fly to the tops of trees if disturbed. By 6-7 weeks old, they are competent fliers and fly to the feeding grounds. The young are sexually mature at 2-3 years.


Population threats

Although Black-crowned night herons are relatively abundant and widespread, localized threats are a concern for certain populations, in particular, habitat loss, wetland degradation, petroleum and pesticide contamination, hunting, and disease.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Black-crowned night heron is around 570,000-3,730,000 individuals. The European population consists of 60,000-86,100 pairs, which equates to 120,000-172,000 mature individuals. National population estimates include around 100,000-1 million breeding pairs, more than 10,000 individuals on migration, and more than 10,000 wintering individuals in China; around 100,000-1 million breeding pairs in Taiwan; around 10,000-100,000 breeding pairs and around 50-1,000 wintering individuals in Korea and around 10,000-100,000 breeding pairs and around 1,000-10,000 individuals on migration in Japan. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • During the breeding season, the night heron male’s legs turn red, and feathers at its nape become longer.
  • The Black-crowned night heron is also known as the “quark bird” due to the call it makes when flying through the night.
  • These birds sometimes lure prey by using “bill vibrating”: opening and closing their bills rapidly in water to create a disturbance.
  • These birds have digestive acids that are so strong that bones dissolve in their stomachs.
  • Black-crowned night herons often nest with other bird species such as ibises, egrets, and other herons. They will even brood the chicks of other species if these are placed in their nests.

Coloring Pages


1. Black-Crowned Night Heron Wikipedia article -
2. Black-Crowned Night Heron on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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