Yellow-crowned Night Heron


yellow-crowned night heronIts name may imply nocturnal (active only at dark), but the Yellow-crowned night heron is active both day and night. Even with its daytime activities, the handsome bird’s slow movement, along with its shy behavior makes it a difficult bird to spot.

Found throughout the eastern two-thirds of Oklahoma, and southeastern part of the United States, the yellow-crowned night heron is generally found in shallow backwaters and wetland areas.

The yellow-crowned night heron is a short stocky bird about 24 inches in length with a wingspan of a little under four feet. It has long yellow to orange legs, red eyes, a black bill and a short neck. The adults are a soft blue-gray, blackish on wings and tail, with a creamy white crown accented by a black face and white cheek patch. During breeding season, adults have a yellow plume of feathers on their head. The young, appearing in mid-June, are uniformly brown streaked.

The yellow-crowned night heron is a migratory bird that resides here in Oklahoma during the summer months. During the winter, it can be found as far south as South America, but can be found almost anywhere along the Gulf and Atlantic Coast year round.

Unlike other night heron species, the yellow-crowned forages day and night. It forages much like other herons by wading through water waiting for its prey to come within striking distance. Also, unlike the great heron which many have seen standing motionless like a statue in many Oklahoma waters, the yellow-crowned will stir up its quarry by wading briskly at the waters edge. With a quick motion, the sword like bill stabs its prey.

The prey of a yellow-crowned night heron normally consists of fish, frogs, grasshoppers, and occasionally snakes, but its primary diet is crustaceans (crayfish). It is also not uncommon to see one prey upon a small turtle since it has a unique stomach acid to help digest the shell.

During breeding season, the yellow-crowned night heron will build a nest of sticks and twigs measuring two or three feet across. This nest is generally a substantial platform that can be found on the ground, or low in a tree, by a body of water. The female will lay three to five eggs that are a pale bluish green in color. Both the male and female will take turns incubating the eggs. The eggs hatch in about three weeks, and both parents care for the chicks feeding them regurgitated food. The chicks fledge when they are about 25 days old.

The yellow-crowned night heron is a common wetland bird in Oklahoma, but is listed as threatened in many of the states within its northeastern range. Loss of wetland habitat has had the greatest impact on this species. With continued conservation of our wetland areas and development of new areas we can help preserve the viewing of this species for many generations to come.