Common Name

Scientific Name

View Utah Distribution Map

Photo by Larry Dalton and Laura Romin
Photo Copyright Larry Dalton and Laura Romin

The black-crowned night heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, breeds in wetland areas throughout much of North America. Birds breeding along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States and in southern Mexico remain in those areas year-around. Birds breeding in other areas migrate to the western United States, Cuba, Central America, or South America for winter. The black-crowned night heron is a common summer resident in Utah, where nesting colonies are normally established in marshes along lakes in the northern part of the state. Black-crowned night herons are sensitive to human disturbance and habitat degradation, especially during the breeding season.

Black-crowned night herons are often harassed by herons that feed during the day, so they normally spend their days roosting on tree limbs. At dusk, they begin to forage and continue to feed during the night until dawn. Their diet consists primarily of fishes, but they also eat insects, eggs, and young birds. The male and female participate in a courtship display, and then form a monogamous pair bond. Both parents build a platform nest in a tree or shrub using sticks and reeds. Three to five eggs are incubated by both parents for approximately one month. The hatchlings emerge with open eyes, but they are immobile. Both parents feed the nestlings until the young leave the nest, at about six or seven weeks of age. At first, the young eat only regurgitated food, but later they begin eating fishes that the parents bring to them.


  • National Geographic Society. 1996. Field guide to the birds of North America, 2nd edition. The National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C.

  • Robbins, C. S., Bruun, B. and H. S. Zim. 1966. Birds of North America. Golden Press, New York.

  • Hayward, C. L., Cottam, C., Woodbury, A. M., and H. H. Frost. 1976. Birds of Utah. In Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs, No. 1 (Wood, S. L. and K. T. Harper, eds.). Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.