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Regularly Occurring Night-Herons of the United States

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron

There are two species of Night-Herons in the United States, the Black-crowned Night-Heron and the Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron. Both species are most often found near water.

The immatures of both species, along with the White-faced and Glossy Ibis, provide the most difficult identification challenges.

Check out the page dedicated to the juveniles of both species.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Height 25 inches

Black-crowned Night Herons can be found throughout most of the United States.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Photograph © Sam Crowe

The Black-crowned Night-Heron is a distinctive species in adiult plumage. Plumes from head longest in breeding season.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Photograph © Sam Crowe

They are found near both fresh and salt water.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Photograph © Sam Crowe

The red eye is distinctive but not always easy to see.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Photograph © Greg Lavaty

Note the feet barely extend beyond the end of the tail. The legs are longer in Yellow-crowned, a useful ID tool for immature Night-Herons.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron
Note heavy spotting on wings and back of this juvenile Black-crowned Night -Heron. Bill is black and yellow.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron

Photograph © Greg Lavaty

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron. Two-tone bill.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Height 24 inches

Range more limited than the Black-crowned, primarily eastern half of the country.

Yellow-crowned-Night-Heron

Adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.  Black and white face pattern distinctive. Photograph © Sam Crowe

 

Yellow-crowned-Night-Heron
A rather worn Yellow-crowned. Compare the size and shape of the bill with the longer, more pointed bill of the Black-crowned.  Photograph © Sam Crowe

Yellow-crowned-Night-Heron

Photograph © Greg Lavaty

Note feet extend well beyound the tail.

Yellow-crowned-Night-Heron

Photograph © Greg Lavaty

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons have a dark bill and less spotting on the sides than juvenile Black-crowned.

Yellow-crowned-Night-Heron

Photograph © Greg Lavaty

Legs much longer than Black-crowned.

Facts of Night-Herons

  • They are not active only on the night, but also during a day.
  • They feed maily on crustaceans, insects, small fish and other small animals found in or near water
  • In some cultures, night herons are considered to be a symbol of good luck or prosperity

 

Read more: Comparisons of juvenile Black-crowned and Yellow-Crowned Night-Herons

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of Birdzilla.com. He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert

Mary Brady

Wednesday 5th of July 2023

This was helpful in identifying a Black Capped Night Heron which flew down on my lawn in daytime. It looks like the picture shown of a more slender one. I have also seen in the past, what I think is a stocky Night Heron on the far side of a pond very near my property. I am wondering if they get stockier as they age or if they vary from season to season. Or individual to individual. Gloucester, MA

Patrick O'Donnell

Monday 10th of July 2023

@Mary Brady- Thanks for sharing, how lucky to have a Black-crowned Night-Heron on your lawn! We are glad to hear we could be of help. Although they don't really get stockier with age, as they get older, night-herons may have fluffier plumage. These birds can also look leaner or stockier depending on if they tuck their necks in or stretch them out.

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