Black crowned night herons are found in many areas of North and South America, Africa, and Eurasia.
They like ponds, lakes, and wooded swamps, but will sometimes live near flooded rice fields. Preferred habitats always include water and vegetation, such as trees or tall reeds, where they can take cover.
Although classified as a “long-legged wader,” this heron is actually small and rather short-legged. An adult stands 23 to 28 inches tall and has a wingspan of 45 inches.
It’s a chunky bird with a heavy body and short, thick neck, that gives the appearance of being hunched over with its head tucked into its shoulders.
The black crowned night heron has a black back and white belly, with gray wings and tail and yellow legs and feet. As the name suggests, the adult has a black cap on its head, with a fallen crest made up of two or three narrow white plumes at the back.
Food and Diet
Yes, it’s called a night heron because it’s a nocturnal feeder.
The black crowned night heron feeds by standing for long periods of time in shallow water or on pilings, watching for prey. It feeds mainly on small fish such as eels, herring, shad, and suckers, catching them with a sudden thrust of the bill.
The birds will also eat frogs, salamanders, crustaceans, small mammals, and young waterbirds. Food is swallowed whole and the bones are dissolved by the heron’s strong stomach acids.
Nests are built in colonies among groves of trees near coastal marshes, in cattail marshes, or in clumps of dry grass. The male gathers the necessary twigs, branches, and reeds, and the female does the actual building.
During the breeding season, the heron’s legs turn red and the black feathers on the head and back acquire a bluish-green sheen. Typically, three to four eggs are laid twice a year, in February or March and then in June or July.
The parents take turns incubating the blue-green eggs, which hatch after about 25 days. Both parents also feed the young by regurgitating food.
After six or seven weeks, the young herons leave the nest and begin to fly. At first, they beg their parents for food until they learn to do their own fishing.