What is a Black-Crowned Night Heron?

Todd M.

The Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nyticorax, is a species of heron that is distributed throughout Eurasia and many other regions of the globe. This bird has earned its common name due to the dark black feathers that appear on the head, shoulders, and top half of the wings. These birds are known for being highly aggressive against other herons and other birds, and are frequently attacked due to their habit of driving out competitors and eating the young.

The black-crowned night heron lives in wetland areas.
The black-crowned night heron lives in wetland areas.

Black-Crowned Night Herons are located primarily in the wetlands of Europe, Asia, and Africa, while some subspecies are distributed throughout North and South America. The only wetland regions that are not inhabited by the Black-Crowned Night Heron are those that have either arctic temperatures or are dominated by the presence of the Rufous Night Heron. These birds are migratory and fly to the south during the winter. In North America, the Black-Crowned Night Heron winters in either the southern United States or Mexico. In other regions, the bird prefers to winter in the West Indies, southern Asia, or tropical regions of Africa.

Black-crowned night herons commonly make their nests in patches of cattails.
Black-crowned night herons commonly make their nests in patches of cattails.

Small fish are the primary source of food for the Black-Crowned Night Heron, although these birds do have a fairly diverse diet. Black-Crowned Night Herons also feed upon the eggs and young of many other wetland birds, as well as bullfrogs, other amphibians, reptiles, and rodents. They feed nocturnally by stalking the wetlands and darting their serrated beaks after whatever prey they are able to find, typically swallowing the prey whole. Naturalists occasionally find the corpse of a Black-Crowned Night Heron that has choked to death by trying to swallow a fish or frog that was far too large for its throat.

The breeding habits of the Black-Crowned Night Heron are communal, and these birds are known to give the same care to young offspring regardless of their lineage. Black-Crowned Night Herons build their nests among a community in a tree or patch of cattails, and a single tree can hold as many as two dozen Black-Crowned Night Heron nests. Male birds attract the attention of females by performing a set of courting rituals that include bowing, hissing, and bill clapping. A pair of Black-Crowned Night Herons shows affection by spending time preening one another, and both the male and the female participate in the construction of the nest. The female lays four to five small blue eggs, and the parents will continue to care for hatched young for more than a year until the brood has grown enough plumage to fly and forage for food on their own.

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