The black-crowned night heron is found across North America from Washington through Quebec, south through coastal Mexico, as well as locally in Central America and the Caribbean. It is a very attractive, stocky medium size member from of the heron family.
Black-crowned night herons are stocky, short-necked birds with short legs in comparison to most other herons. They have black on the top of their head and back, grey wings, a long black bill and a white face and underbelly. They also have long white plumes extending from the black crest on their head. Their legs are usually green, but may turn pink or red during breeding season. Females are similar in color to males, but tend to be slightly smaller. The Black-crowned Night Heron can reach lengths of 23-28 inches with a wingspan of 45 inches. Their body weight can reach up to 2 pounds. Males are slightly larger than the females.
Night Herons are unpopular with other herons, which attack the Night Herons on sight. This is because Night Herons are very aggressive and steal eggs and young of other heron colonies. Perhaps it is the harassment from other birds that force Night Herons to come out mainly at night.
Although they are social birds, black-crowned night herons hunt alone, eating fish, frogs, small mammals, leeches, vegetation, snakes, lizards and crayfish. They have extremely strong digestive stomach acids that are capable of dissolving bones. Black Crowned Night Herons may also hunt by vibrating their bills in the water to lure prey into investigating the disturbance. They may walk about or even swim when searching for food.
Like other herons, Night Herons hunt in shallow waters using their long necks and thick bills to snatch at prey.
Slow patient stalkers, they may remain motionless for long periods, standing with their neck tucked in, giving their typical hunched posture.
Black-crowned Night Herons nest in trees or marshes among the reeds. Their nests are haphazard piles of reeds, sticks or twigs that are reused each breeding season. The female lays three to four bluish-green eggs between February and March and again between June and July. Both parents incubate the eggs and after a period of 24 to 26 days, the downy young will hatch. The parents both feed the nestlings by regurgitating food they have eaten themselves. The young will leave the nest 6-7 weeks later.
The Black-crowned Night Heron lives an average of 3 years in the wild. In captivity, these birds can live up to 17 years.
Black-crowned night herons are noisy, social birds that congregate with many other species of herons. They are active during the night and roost during the day. They migrate south during early spring and return in late summer/autumn.