Black-Crowned Night Heron

by Kyle D. Sweet, CGCS

Seen all along island marsh shorelines, both fresh and saltwater, the Black-Crowned Night Heron is this week’s “Sweet Shot”.

Found to nest on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, the Black – Crowned Night Heron can be found all year-round in Southwest Florida as well as throughout the entire state of Florida and coastal Southeastern states.

These stocky herons often sit hunched and motionless in trees near water and can be found in a variety of aquatic habitats including marshes, rivers, ponds, mangrove swamps, tidal flats and canals. In these habitats, they feed mostly on fish but also enjoy squid, crustaceans, frogs, clams, mussels and even small rodents.

Like other herons, they forage by standing still or walking slowly along the edge of shallow water. One difference however, is that the night heron, true to its name, forages mostly from late evening through the night. As with several other heron species, the Black – Crowned Night Heron has been observed to engage in bait fishing, where they lure or distract fish by tossing both edible or inedible floating objects into the water within their striking range.

The Black-Crowned Night Heron first breeds at the age of two years. They often begin nesting earlier in the season than other herons, in colonies with other Black – Crowned Night Herons or other species of herons, ibis or egrets. The male provides the building materials and the female constructs the nest, which consists of a platform of sticks typically 10-40’ above the ground in branches overhanging the water. Without a doubt, this heron is the most prolific nester along the edges of several of our golf course lakes. Year after year, watching nesting activities and the young fledge has been a tradition on our golf course wildlife tours.

The Black – Crowned Night Heron is a unique, stocky heron that is an easy one to identify. Look for these birds later in the afternoon or early in the morning around nearly any of our island water bodies amongst our many preserve lands and the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Have that camera at the ready and enjoy this bird that often is an easy one to photograph as it often sits quite still either in trees or the shoreline. Happy sightings!

Four Keys to ID

1. Size and Shape – Small squatty heron with thick proportions and a thick neck. It has a large flat head and heavy bill.
2. Color Pattern – Immatures are brown with large white spots on the wings. Adults are light gray birds with a well – defined black back and black crown. Adults have all black bills, immatures have yellow / black bills.
3. Behavior – Spend their days perched on tree limbs or hiding amongst foliage and branches. They forage at evening and night, both in mudflats and on land. They roost and nest in groups but forage on their own.
4. Habitat – wetland habitats across North America, including estuaries, marshes, streams and lakes.

COOL FACT – Young Black-Crowned Night Herons leave the nest at four weeks, but often cannot fly for six weeks. They travel and forage through the vegetation on foot and join up with the flock at night.

Comments (1)

  1. Ellen Walz Svenson - (Somerset at the Reef)

    Each week I read Kyle’s article to learn more about the breadth of fauna and flora on our islands. Thank you.

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