Black-Crowned Night-Heron

Nycticorax nycticorax
Range Map

We find the Black-Crowned Night-Herons throughout a large part of the world, except in the coldest regions. While these birds are year-round residents in many places in the western hemisphere, there are areas where they appear only in the winter or summer. Yet these birds are citizens of the globe and make homes in South America, Africa, southern Asia and Indonesia. Most of my meetings with these birds have been in southern California, but a few meetings have been in central California, Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico.

Often an ‘ambush’ predator, these birds sit motionless for long periods and strike out like a flash when prey items come within range. Members of the Heron clan follow a variety of foraging styles. Similarly, Great Blue Herons and the Great Egrets are ambush predators, sitting motionless in a location watching and waiting for prey to move into striking range. Contrast this with the Snowy Egret and the Reddish Egret, who employ a very animated style of hunting to startle their prey into view, then chase it down for capture. This bird is not as active as the Snowy or Reddish egrets, nor are they as patient as the Great Blue Heron. Theirs is a mixture of both strategies, sometimes active, and other times stealthy.

Today, science recognizes four subspecies of Black-Crowned Night-Heron:

  • N. n. nycticorax lives in central and southern Europe, northern Africa, east to Asia, and south to Java, Sulawesi, Timor and Philippines, sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Some northern breeders winter in the southern parts of this range.
  • N. n. hoactli lives in North, Central, and South America from southern Canada, through the USA and south as far as northern Chile and Argentina. They have been reported on the Hawaiian Islands.
  • N. n. obscurus lives in northern Chile and northern Argentina, south to Tierra del Fuego.
  • N. n. falklandicus lives on the Falkland Islands.

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