Black Crowned Night Heron Bird (Nycticorax nycticorax)

black crowned night heron

Black crowned night heron bird, also referred to as black crowned heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, or just night heron, belongs to the family of Ardeidae in the order of Ciconiiformes. Its scientific name means night raven.

The genus has been named Nycticorax by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, meaning night raven, and refers to its feeding habits at night. This interesting night heron bird (Nycticorax nycticorax) was first described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 edition of Systema Naturae.

It is a medium-sized wading bird in the heron family, native to much of Africa, Asia, and Europe and most commonly found around the Mediterranean, where it breeds colonially in reed beds. Like other night herons, this species hunts mainly at night, but may also be active during the day when disturbed.

Description

black crowned night heron

Native to Eastern Africa, the Black Crowned Night Heron bird is one of the largest herons. Nycticorax nycticorax prefers to live near salt water where it can hunt crabs and other aquatic prey. The bird’s feathers change color from white during the breeding season, when the crown appears blacker than usual, to dark brown during non-breeding seasons.

The Black Crowned Night Heron also has a black featherless patch on its head that gives the impression of a cowl. The bird hunts at night and preys mostly on fish, amphibians, crustaceans, reptiles, mammals, and insects.

Black crowned night heron scientific name

The scientific name of the Black crowned night heron bird is Nycticorax nycticorax

Black crowned night heron range and habitat

Black crowned herons are found along shorelines and marshes and prefer shallow water with vegetation cover. To help find one of these shy birds, scan the surrounding vegetation at low tide near shallow water looking for a hunchback stance or an arrowhead shape perched on a branch.

Black crowned night herons are usually seen during the breeding season in May through July but can be found year-round throughout Florida and parts of Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama.

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Black crowned night heron size

The black crowned night heron bird is considered to be medium-sized, standing about 58 – 66 cm (22.8 – 26 inches) in length. The weight ranges from 1.4 pounds to 2.5 pounds, but on average they are just a little bit under 2 pounds in weight. Their wingspan is around 115 – 118 cm (45.3 – 46.5 inches).

Feathers and plumage

black crowned night heron

The feathers on the Black-crowned Night Heron’s body are a dark green-black color with speckles of white and black, giving it a unique look. The most noticeable feature of this bird is its black head with bright yellow eyes.

If you look closely enough, the top of the beak has a curved shape which contrasts with the straight bottom half. A black crown wraps around the heron’s forehead and neck; this crown separates from the rest of its body feathers when it preens.

Molting

Black crowned night herons go through a unique molting process known as catastrophic molt. Every other year they abandon their old feathers in one single event and grow all new ones to replace them.

These events last anywhere from six to eight weeks. The head of the bird becomes bald during this time, which is when the bird is at its most vulnerable state. During this time they are not able to fly or use their sharp beaks for catching prey, so it’s important that the bird finds safe haven until it has fully recovered.

When the heron has reached the end of its molting period, it will have grown new feathers covering its body and can then resume normal activity. During these periods of extreme vulnerability birds often find safety on islands or near human settlements where there are more opportunities for food.

Nesting behavior

The male selects a nesting site, often in a tree or a place over water, in an area where he is unlikely to be attacked by predators such as in a swamp or on an island, and then broadcasts his interest to females. Night herons nest in colonies, often with a dozen nests per tree. Colonies can last for decades.

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When the male bird builds the nest, he creates a platform out of twigs, sticks, and any other kind of woody vegetation he can find (which he usually takes from the ground). Once a mate has been found, the male bird will collect nesting material and give it to the female, who does all the construction work. The nest can measure up to 12 – 18 inches in diameter and 8 – 12 inches high. While some nests are sturdy, others are flimsy.

Black crowned night heron diet and foraging

The Black Crowned Night Heron is a New World heron that prefers to feed at night or near dark, feeding on fish, crustaceans, frogs, and other small aquatic life. They will also forage insects and small mammals by using their keen sense of hearing and smell.

They are opportunistic hunters and foragers, so it’s no surprise they also eat garbage if the opportunity arises.

Black-crowned night heron sound

The Black-crowned night heron sound is a very territorial and soft, groaning call. The bird’s voice communicates what its mood is in the wild. It has the ability to make different sounds when they are courting or upset. This black crowned heron’s sound ranges from chirping, squawking, and clucking.

Breeding

black crowned night heron

There may be breeding as early as February and new breeders continue to arrive until the end of April. Breeding displays are performed by males to attract black crowned night heron females.

This heron builds a platform nest in a tree using sticks as building materials. The number of nests that can be found in one tree can exceed a dozen. From mid-March to late April, females lay three to five eggs, with most hatching between late April and late May giving birth to juvenile night herons.

Approximately six weeks after hatching, black crowned night heron juveniles fledge. By mid-August to mid-October, most herons have left their breeding colonies.

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Lifespan

The average lifespan of a black crowned night heron bird is 15 to 20 years. In some populations on islands off Australia and New Zealand, they have been seen to have lifespans upwards of 30 years.

Black crowned night heron migration

During the warmer months, night herons live in the eastern United States and southern Canada. During this time they do not migrate, but rather stay in one area. However, during the winter months, they will fly south to Central America where they stay until spring.

When they return to North America in April or May they leave their migratory site and move back inland near marshes and estuaries. They usually start their migration northwards in late July or early August and then, finally, leave their breeding ground by October to November.

Diseases and threats

The main diseases and threats to the black crowned night heron bird include predation, hunting, human development, and habitat destruction. Black crowned night herons are hunted for their meat and eggs by humans.

They are also caught as food by raccoons, coyotes, cats, domestic dogs, and alligators. Their natural habitat is shrinking due to deforestation for livestock pastureland, housing developments, and oil production.
Population status

Approximately 570,000 to 3,730,000 Black crowned night herons live in the wild, according to the IUCN Red List. There are approximately 60,000 to 86,100 pairs in Europe, meaning there are between 120,000 to 172,000 mature individuals.

Conservation and management

At the time of this post, the black crowned night heron bird is classified as near threatened by IUCN’s classification system. This status designation can be affected by a number of factors including changes in its habitat and range, pressure from predators, and pollution and hunting.

In fact, during the breeding season, these birds live a solitary life where they are non-territorial and fight for food when needed. However, after that, it migrates to its winter home with other members of the same species where they start becoming territorial again.

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The black crowned night heron bird is an opportunistic feeder but mainly feeds on crustaceans, fish, and frogs at their nesting site. They also eat carrion at times. To conserve this species, their nesting sites need to be preserved and also preserve the cleanliness of water sources to protect it from getting sick.