Why is it called a “Night” Heron?
The scientific name, Nycticorax, means “night raven”, which is a very good fit for this smaller heron, whose unusual nighttime hunting habits help avoid competition with other larger heron species that use the same habitat during the day. The exception to this rule comes in the breeding season, when you might see them out hunting during the day to help meet the extra energy demands of nesting. Normally, by day, these chunky herons seem dull and lethargic, sitting hunched and motionless in trees near water, often in groups. They become active at dusk, their ghostly forms flapping away from daytime roosts to forage in wetlands through the night.
While our night herons winter in southern half of US, the 4 subspecies of black-crowned night heron breed on every continent except for Antarctica and Australasia! Night herons utilize a broad range of fresh, brackish and salt-water habitats, from rivers, wooded streams, edges of lakes that have become overgrown with rushes and cattails, to swamps and lagoons, mudflats, salt-marsh, and mangroves. Being opportunistic feeders with exceptional eyesight, their diet is quite variable. Consisting mostly of small fish, they also eat squid, crustaceans, invertebrates, aquatic insects, worms, frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles, clams, mussels, small mammals such as rodents, eggs and young birds, some plant matter, as well as carrion. This ability to exploit so many kinds of habitats and food sources makes them the most widespread heron in the world..While they are a gregarious birds during all times of the year, and often seen in very large groups, they prefer to forage alone.
Black-crowned Night Herons have a very different look than most herons and egrets, with their short legs, piercing crimson eyes, and a stout black bill. During the breeding season, their heads are adorned with two to three long, white plumes reaching up to 25 cm.