Black-crowned Night Heron
Photo Credit: Terry Hartley
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Nycticorax nycticorax
OTHER NAMES: Quok
DESCRIPTION: The black-crowned night heron is a small, red-eyed wading bird that reaches lengths of 20-28 inches with a wingspan of up to 44 inches. It is described as having black plumage on top of the head and back with grayish-blue wings. The underside of the neck and belly are of clear white. It also has a thick black bill and short yellow legs. The night herons have a shorter neck than other herons assisting them in their stocky appearance when compared to other wading birds. Two long white slender plumes extend from the back of the head while in breeding plumage. The sexes are similar in appearance. Juveniles are generally brown, heavily streaked on the breast and spotted on the back and wings with lighter tones. Their eyes are yellow to amber colored and the base of the bill is generally yellow. There unique vocalization, “quok”, is often heard at or around dusk as they fly to their feeding grounds.
DISTRIBUTION: The black-crowned night-heron is widely distributed throughout North America, South America, Eurasia and Africa. In Alabama, it typically prefers coastal brackish areas but can be observed uncommonly throughout the state while on migration.
HABITAT: This heron prefers to remain close to the waters edge in a variety of wetland habitats such as wooded swamps, ponds, lakes and estuaries.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: This small wading bird is relatively unknown to most due to its reclusive nature and trait of nocturnal activity. It forages in shallow water at dusk and under the cover of night feeding on a collection of aquatic prey including fish, crayfish, shrimp, frogs, tadpoles and insects.
They nest in low numbers in Alabama, typically along the coast on small coastal islands with other species of herons. Their nests are constructed of loosely arranged sticks and twigs and typically contain three to six pale-green eggs.
AUTHOR: Keith Gauldin, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, September 2008.