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Yellow-crowned Night Heron - BirdForum Opus

(Redirected from Yellow-crowned Night-Heron)
Adult subspecies N. v. bancrofti
Photo © by geomorph
South Andros Island, Bahamas, 21 March 2004
Nyctanassa violacea


Immature of nominate N. v. violacea (shown by orange rather than juvenile's yellow eye)
Photo © by jonsund
Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, Florida, 10 September 2009

51–70 cm (51-27½ in)
Grey body, Pale yellow crown, red eyes and short yellow legs, white stripe below the eye completely surrounded by black. Black feather centers produce a pattern on the wings. The bill has a specific shape, with the culmen tapering down and the mandible tapering up to the tip of the bill so that the bill overall is shaped like a chisel.

Juveniles are mainly brown flecked with white or gray. They have yellow eyes; immatures have orange eyes.


Immature nominate N. v. violacea in flight
Photo © by STEFFRO1
Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina, 18 July 2014

In flight will have strong legs protruding back beyond the short tail and the neck held in a compact S shape.

Beginning of 1st summer - Flight
Photo © by Stanley Jones
Brazos Bend State Park, Fort Bend County, Texas, USA, 20 April 2021

Similar species

Photo © by Tired
Texas,USA, 21 March 2021

Black-crowned Night Heron and Boat-billed Heron are the most similar to both adults and juveniles, and the juvenile additionally has some similarities to American Bittern. Notice the shape of the bill of the Black-crowned Night-Heron which has lower edge of the mandible straight.

Immatures and especially juveniles differ from Black-crowned Night Heron as follows:

  • tiny pale spots on the wings and narrow white edges to the greater coverts (as compared with more extensive streaks in Black-crowned)
  • duller brown with smaller pale teardrop marks
  • relatively well-defined dark longitudinal neck streaks (especially juveniles)
  • thicker, all-black and deep-based bill with a blunt tip. This may have a yellowish base to the lower mandible but it is never as extensive as in Black-crowned
  • lower mandible generally curves up to meet upper mandible. In Black-crowned the lower mandible is much straighter
  • longer-legged: usually can see more leg above the "knee" than in Black-crowned


Photo © by Tired
Texas, USA, 21 March 2021

North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

North America: limited to eastern parts where breeding coastally from Maine to Florida and the along the Gulf Coast and inland from the Great Lakes to Colorado and Texas. Recently expanded to Southern California breeding north to Ventura County [5].

Central America: Range continues along Gulf Coast of Mexico and along the Atlantic side south to Panama and also occurs along the Pacific coast from Baja California southwards.

South America: occurs in coastal areas from Colombia to Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil in the east, as well as south to northern Peru in the west and on the Galapagos Islands.

The Caribbean: Also occurs throughout the West Indies and has been reintroduced to Bermuda.

Most northern birds move southwards after breeding to winter in the southern USA, Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. Vagrants recorded north to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.



Clements recognises the following subspecies [1]:

  • N. v. violacea: Central and eastern US to east Mexico and Honduras
  • N. v. bancrofti: Baja California and west Mexico to El Salvador and West Indies. [paler and larger-billed]
  • N. v. gravirostris: Socorro Island (of the Revillagigedo Islands off western Mexico). [Large-billed]
  • N. v. caliginis: Panama to Peru. [Large bill and darker grey upperparts]
  • N. v. cayennensis: Colombia to east Brazil. [Slender-billed with dark upperparts]
  • N. v. pauper: Galapagos Islands. [small and dark]


Remains of Land Crab (favorite food)
Photo © by njlarsen
Cabrits National Park, Dominica, 24 July 2010

Mainly coastal areas including rocky shores, mudflats and mangroves. Also inland on lakeshores and riverbanks. Breeding in swamps and marshes.


The degree to which they are active during day or dawn/dusk varies both geographically and with time of year; they are more likely to be encountered before dark when they have young in the nest.


Mainly colonial nesters in trees or shrubs. The platform nest is built of sticks near water. The clutch consists of 3–5 pale blue-green eggs.


The diet includes crustaceans, molluscs, frogs, aquatic insects and small fish, but one favorite food is land crabs; their bills are shaped like chisels and used to hammer a hole in the back of the crab shell.


Commonest call is "Scaup" similar to "Quock" Call of Black-crowned Night-Heron but higher pitched.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Birdforum member personal observations
  3. Watts, B. D. (2020). Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.ycnher.01
  4. Wikipedia contributors. (2018, September 4). Yellow-crowned night heron. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:19, October 17, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Yellow-crowned_night_heron&oldid=858077943
  5. Lehman, P. E. "The Birds of Santa Barbara County, California", Revised edition, July 2018, available at https://sites.google.com/site/lehmanbosbc/, 2018. Original edition: The Vertebrate Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1994.
  6. Watts, B. D. (2011). Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.161

Recommended Citation

External Links

GSearch checked for 2020 platform.1