Black Crown Heron 2011

Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, Kauai, Hawaii September 2011

Black-crowned Night-Herons are stocky birds compared to many of their long-limbed heron relatives. They’re most active at night or at dusk, when you may see their ghostly forms flapping out from daytime roosts to forage in wetlands. In the light of day adults are striking in gray-and-black plumage and long white head plumes. These social birds breed in colonies of stick nests usually built over water. They live in fresh, salt, and brackish wetlands and are the most widespread heron in the world.

Size & Shape
Black-crowned Night-Herons are small herons with rather squat, thick proportions. They have thick necks, large, flat heads, and heavy, pointed bills. The legs are short and, in flight, barely reach the end of the tail. The wings are broad and rounded.

Color Pattern
Adults are light-gray birds with a neatly defined black back and black crown. Immatures are brown with large white spots on the wings and blurry streaks on the underparts. Adults have all-black bills; immatures have yellow-and-black bills.

Behavior
Black-crowned Night-Herons often spend their days perched on tree limbs or concealed among foliage and branches. They forage in the evening and at night, in water, on mudflats, and on land. In flight they fold their head back against their shoulders, almost making the neck disappear.

Habitat
These are social birds that tend to roost and nest in groups, although they typically forage on their own. Look for them in most wetland habitats across North America, including estuaries, marshes, streams, lakes, and reservoirs.

Cool Facts

  • The familiar evening sight and sound of the Black-crowned Night-Heron was captured in this description from Arthur Bent’s Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds: “How often, in the gathering dusk of evening, have we heard its loud, choking squawk and, looking up, have seen its stocky form, dimly outlined against the gray sky and propelled by steady wing beats, as it wings its way high in the air toward its evening feeding place in some distant pond or marsh!”
  • Scientists find it easy, if a bit smelly and messy, to study the diet of young Black-crowned Night-Herons—the nestlings often disgorge their stomach contents when approached.
  • Black-crowned Night Heron nest in groups that often include other species, including herons, egrets, and ibises.
  • A breeding Black-crowned Night-Heron will brood any chick that is placed in its nest. The herons apparently don’t distinguish between their own offspring and nestlings from other parents.
  • Young Black-crowned Night-Herons leave the nest at the age of 1 month but cannot fly until they are 6 weeks old. They move through the vegetation on foot, joining up in foraging flocks at night.
  • The oldest Black-crowned Night-Heron on record was a female who was at least 21 years, 5 month old.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-crowned_Night-Heron/id

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