Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)


The black-crowned night-heron is a rather stocky heron. It looks as if it is hunched over with its head usually tucked down into its shoulders. Its plumage is gray and white with a distinctive black cap and a pair of white plumes that extend from the back of the head. During the breeding season, the black feathers from the head and back emit a bluish-green gloss and the legs become red.

Life History

This bird is a nocturnal and noisy heron. While "day" herons and egrets are roosting during the night, the black-crowned night-heron is up feeding on fish, frogs, crustaceans, small mammals and even the young of other colonial-nesting waterbirds. Their digestive acids are so strong that bones that are consumed simply dissolve in their stomachs.

Black-crowned night-herons usually nest colonially among reeds in marshes, or up to 160 feet above the ground in trees. Their nests are seemingly haphazard piles of reeds, sticks or twigs that may, over the years, become very bulky.

The black-crowned night-heron lays three to four bluish-green eggs between February and March and again between June and July. Both parents incubate and, after a period of 24 to 26 days per egg, the downy young will hatch. Both parents feed the nestlings by regurgitation and six to seven weeks later the young will leave the nest.

This heron migrates in large flocks almost exclusively at night, resting during the daylight hours. Their spring migration generally occurs from mid-February through mid-May. Fall migration occurs from mid-July through October.


Although they frequent wooded swamps, ponds, lakes and tropical mangroves, black-crowned night-herons have also been found to take advantage of rice fields and other diverse habitats. They keep close to water and vegetation such as reeds, trees and mangroves where they roost and take cover.


The black-crowned night-heron is widely distributed throughout North America, South America, Eurasia and Africa. They are common winter and breeding residents of much of the Texas Gulf Coast. They also may be found sporadically along the Rio Grande and over northern and interior eastern portions of the state.