Black-Crowned Night Heron
by Angela Capinera
Your Mind in Bloom, LLC
The Nycticorax nycticorax……better known as the Black-Crowned Night Heron….is not uneasy wearing their crown. (Nycticorax is from the Ancient Greek for “night raven”. “Nuktos” is night and “korax” is raven.)
So I spotted this American Black-Crowned Night Heron at Longbrook Park during the day last week while driving by. This was a slam-on-your-brakes type of moment.
Black-Crowned Night Herons only usually appear during the day during breeding season because they are seeking extra food for the extra energy needed while breeding. Usually they like to conceal themselves as much as possible. I couldn’t get much closer without scaring it away to tell if it was a male or female. Males have 3 extra-long white skinny plumes on the top of their head during breeding that arch downwards which can be hard to see without long-range lenses. Males and females are similar in appearance from birth.
Black-Crowned Night Herons are a worldwide species and master hunters. The American species either remains in its area or migrates from Central America. There are an estimated 50,000 birds yet they are still placed in the “watched/endangered” category due to their high sensitivity to pollutants in the food chain.
Stratford and the East Coast of the United States are areas where Black-Crowned Night Herons tend to remain year round due to a more temperate climate and access to the ocean. They received their name “Night” from usually foraging and hunting either in the early morning or evening.
Stratford is an ideal location for Nycticorax nycticorax for several reasons. First, location, location, location. Stratford has everything Nycticorax nycticorax wants. There are plenty of freshwater, saltwater, and marsh water sources available hence plenty of fish, insects, rodents, and crustaceans at the top of the food chain to hunt and feast on.
Their long beaks are specifically designed to grab larger fish and insects and they can stretch their mouth out to fit the animal in as well. They are also a natural source of rodent control and have even been spotted eating rabbits.
Nycticorax nycticorax are scavengers and do go through human refuse to find food. They actually love landfills Interestingly; they can also tolerate high levels of human traffic.
Stratford also has an abundance of cattails and larger trees over or near water where colonies can roost. Even though solitary foragers, a large group of birds can share one tree and begin their families there. Individual birds and their descendants can also remain and return to the same tree for over 50 years.
Their nests are started by the male in a spot he picks and then the female finishes it. The nests can be up 1.5 feet across and 1-foot high. Each clutch can have between 3-5 eggs. Chicks leave the nest after 1-month egg incubation and then 1 month of nesting. The parents take turns feeding the young and the young learn to fly at about 6 weeks.
Black-Crowned Night Herons are a prime example of Mother Nature’s shifters and adapters. First, they have several different calls based on the situation. Next, they go through 3 different appearance phases from birth to adult. Juveniles are brown/black in color with white stripes and a very tufted head with white/yellowish feet and a lighter color bill. Next, in the more middle “teenage” phase, they are grayish and their bill is yellow/ blackish. In their adult phase, they have the telltale black crown on their head, black back feathers, and fully black bill. Their legs also are now orange, sometimes with a pinkish appearance. Their eyes are dark red.
Keep your eyes open because you never know where one will appear!