Black-crowned Night-Heron

Nycticorax nycticorax

With a range that spans five continents, including much of North America, the Black-crowned Night-Heron is the most widespread heron in the world. It is most active at dusk and at night, feeding in the same areas that other heron species frequent during the day.

Interesting Information

  • Young Black-crowned Night-Herons often disgorge their stomach contents when disturbed. This habit makes it easy to study its diet.

  • The Black-crowned Night-Heron may nest in the same tree with ibises or other herons.

  • Adult Black-crowned Night-Herons apparently do not distinguish between their own young and those from other nests, and will brood chicks not their own.


Adult Description

  • Size: 58-66 cm (23-26 in)

  • Wingspan: 115-118 cm (45-46 in)

  • Weight: 727-1014 g (25.66-35.79 ounces)

  • Medium-sized, stocky heron.

  • Short neck and thick black bill.

  • Black cap and back.

  • Wings gray.

  • Underparts white.

  • Long, thin, white plumes coming out of rear of cap.

  • Relatively short, yellowish green or pink legs.

  • Eyes red.

Sex Differences

Sexes similar; female slightly smaller.


Brown with white spots on the wings and broad, indistinct streaks on the underparts. Bill mostly yellow.


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Various wetland habitats, including salt, brackish, and freshwater marshes, swamps, streams, lakes, and agricultural fields.


Grasps prey; does not stab with bill.


Aquatic invertebrates, fish, amphibians, lizards, snakes, rodents, eggs, and other foods.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
    Subfamily: Ardeinae
Genus: Nycticorax
Species: Nycticorax nycticorax
    Subspecies: Nycticorax nycticorax falklandicus
  Nycticorax nycticorax hoactli
  Nycticorax nycticorax nycticorax
  Nycticorax nycticorax obscurus

Similar Species

  • Juvenile and first-winter Yellow-crowned Night-Heron have an all-black bill, smaller wing spots, and longer legs.

  • American Bittern also bears brown streaks, but lacks white spots on the wings.

Bird Sound

Call a loud, harsh squawk.

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution


Black-crowned Night-Heron