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Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

  • Birds

Introduction to the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

The Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, or Nyctanassa violacea, is a bird native to North and South America. It is a bit smaller than some other herons, growing to 18-22 inches in length, with a wingspan of between 29-39 inches. Though they can be seen during the day, preferring to hunt during the low light hours of dawn and dusk, these herons are often thought of as nocturnal due to their preference for darkness. They take refuge in tree branches or among marsh vegetation or beach shrubbery, and often sit for prolonged periods of time without moving. The coloration of an adult Yellow-Crowned Night Heron can vary from a light grey to a cinnamon-brown. They have a white or pale grey face and neck, and the trademark yellow crown-like plumes atop the head.

Habitat and Diet

Yellow-Crowned Night Herons can be found all throughout the Americas, living in wetlands, coastal areas, and wooded swamps. They typically nest in colonies in trees near the shoreline, though they do sometimes nest in inaccessible areas in wetlands or on cliffs. In the cooler months, they may migrate to further south along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts. The diet of these herons consists mostly of small fish, frogs, aquatic insects, and other small aquatic wildlife. They primarily use their bill to wade through the water, feeling the bottom for prey before snapping it up, but they can also be seen standing atop sticks and logs or flying above the water surface and then quickly plunging into the water to catch prey.

Nesting Season

Nesting season for the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron typically falls between April and July and can vary based on the region. During this time, the herons will construct their nests out of sticks and other vegetation, high atop a branch in a colony of other herons. These nesting colonies can be a noisy affair, with the birds “cackling” at each other and to other bird species nearby. Up to three pale blue eggs are usually laid at a time in the nest, and then incubated by both the male and female birds for a period of 20-25 days. Parental care of the chicks lasts until they fledge at 1-2 months of age.

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron two

Conservation Status

Though there is still some uncertainty with regards to population size, the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron is considered a relatively common species. Although their habitats are subject to human development and degradation, most populations of this bird remain stable or are increasing. They are listed as ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List, and in the US, they are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In Conclusion

The Yellow-Crowned Night Heron is a unique bird that is found all throughout North and South America. They prefer to hunt in low light, often taking refuge among vegetation or tree branches during the day, though they can be a very vocal species during nesting season. Fortunately, populations of the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron are thought to be stable or increasing, with the species listed as ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List. With proper protection, this species should remain a vital part of the world’s avian diversity for many years to come.

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