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Species Description

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Nycticorax nycticorax

Species Image


Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ardeidae


Black crown and top of head; white on the remainder of the head; white throat, breast, and belly; black back; gray on the remainder of the body; black bill; red eye; yellow legs and feet. 64 cm (25 in) in length; 112 cm (44 in) wingspan. A stocky heron. In breeding plumage these birds have white head plumes.

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in mid-March, peaks in mid-April to mid-May, and extends until the middle of June. Breeding habitat is wetland areas, including swamps, mangroves, and marshes. The species nests in colonies, with many birds nesting in the same area together. The nest is commonly built in a tree or shrub 15-30 feet ( m) above the ground. The platform-style nest is built of sticks, twigs, and other plant material. The female lays 1-7 (usually 3-5) eggs that both adults take turns incubating for 24-26 days. The young are semi-altricial and are cared for by the adults for 42-49 days after hatching.

Natural History

Non-breeding habitat is associated with wetlands. The diet includes fish, aquatic invertebrates, eggs and young birds, and other small vertebrates. The Black-crowned Night-heron captures aquatic prey by standing in or near the water to capture food. This species forages at night and roosts during the day.


Black-crowned Night-Heron Region Map The Black-crowned Night-heron occurs throughout most of the United States during the breeding season and in most coastal areas all year. This species winters in the southern United States south to Cuba and South America. In Georgia, breeding populations are found in the southern half of the state and wintering populations occur in the southern quarter of the state and inland along the Savannah River.

Conservation Status

In the southeastern United States, this species is listed by the state of Kentucky as Endangered and by the state of Tennessee as Threatened.

Similar Species

The most similar species is the Yellow-crowned Night-heron, which has a yellow crown and a gray back.