Yellow crown; black head with a white cheek patch; gray body; black bill; red eyes; yellow legs and feet. 61 cm (24 in) in length; 107 cm (42 in) wingspan. A stocky heron. In breeding plumage these birds have white head plumes.
The breeding season begins in late March, peaks in mid-April to early May, and extends until the middle of July. Breeding habitat is wetland areas, including swamps, mangroves, marshes, bottomland forests, and river systems. The species nests in loose colonies, with birds nesting in the same area together. The nest is commonly built in a tree or shrub 30-40 feet ( m) above the ground. The platform-style nest is built of sticks, twigs, and other plant material. The female lays 4-8 (usually 4-5) eggs, and both adults take turns incubating them for 21-25 days. The young are semi-altricial and remain near the nest for 25 days after hatching. Both adults care for the nestlings.
Non-breeding habitat is associated with wet areas. The diet is primarily crustaceans, especially crayfish and crabs, but also includes fish, aquatic invertebrates, eggs and young birds, and other small vertebrates. The Yellow-crowned Night-heron captures aquatic prey by standing in or near the water. This species forages at night and roosts during the day.
The Yellow-crowned Night-heron occurs in most of the eastern half of the United States during the breeding season and in most southern coastal areas all year. Some individuals winter south of the United States to southern Panama. In Georgia, this species can occur throughout the state during the breeding season, but has been seen only in the coastal areas during the winter.
The Yellow-crowned Night-heron is state-listed as Threatened in Kentucky.
The most similar species is the Black-crowned Night-heron, which has a black crown, a gray back, and a white throat, breast, and belly.