BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
DESCRIPTION: The Black-crowned night heron, as opposed to taller herons, has a stocky body, short legs and a short and large neck. It measures around 60 cm (24 in.) long, and the adult has a black crown and blueish-black back, light grey wings and white under parts including the throat and the neck sides. The bill is large and black, the legs yellow and the eyes are red. Adults have a few long, slender feathers extending from the back of the neck. Sexes are similar, but the male is slightly larger.
NAME: The black-crowned night heron, as the name implies, is ‘supposed’ to be active at night, but as can be seen below, some will also be busy searching for food during the day. The name ‘Heron’ has a complicated origin and evolved from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘to creak or screech’ (in reference to that bird’s call).
A double Latin name means that there is only one species in that genus. The Latin name itself ‘Nycticorax’ is from Greek and means ‘night crow’, because its night call had been confounded with that of a crow.
HABITAT: Black-crowned night herons can be found in different kinds of wetlands – marshes, reservoirs, estuaries, and near bodies of water in cities as well, such as fountains in parks or in front of hotel buildings. In other words, they can be found wherever there are fish, their main diet.
DIET: Opportunistic. In addition to fish, black-crowned night herons will also feed on various small animals such as birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, arthropods and worms. They will eat some plant materials and can be seen at garbage dumps as well. As opposed to other herons who spear their prey, the black-crowned night heron will seize it in its bill and swallow it. There have been observations of some birds actually baiting fish to attract them to the water surface.
NESTING: this heron will nest in colonies in trees, in an area judged to be sheltered from predators. The colony can include other bird species. The nest is made from small branches and twigs with a flimsy appearance.
ON PEI: The black-crowned night heron does not breed on PEI, and its presence on the island is noted as being ‘accidental’ (9 or fewer records per century). One juvenile was observed and photographed at Corran Ban near Grand Tracadie on October 5, 2014 (photo below).
DISTRIBUTION: This heron is widespread around the world and one group of the global population breeds in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, and migrates not far south of its breeding range. Then there’s another large population of birds which are permanent residents in the southern hemisphere.
CONSERVATION: the population of the black-crowned night heron has slightly declined over the last few decades but insufficiently to list the bird as of concern. Some threats include habitat degradation from wetland drainage and water pollution. What helps that bird is that it adapted well to human environments.