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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Black-crowned Night-Heron -- Nycticorax nycticorax

RANGE: Breeds from central Washington and east-central Alberta to southern Quebec, northeastern New Brunswick and Nova Scotia south locally through the United States to South America. Wanders a great deal. After breeding, disperses over most of the United States not within its breeding range, except northern Rocky Mountain region, and north into Canada. Winters in the Southwest and the lower Ohio Valley, Gulf Coast, and southern New England south throughout the breeding range.

STATUS: Common throughout most of its range.

HABITAT: Inhabits a wide variety of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater habitats almost anywhere a wader might exist, including lakes, ponds, marshes, wooded swamps, slow streams with pools, or rivers. Roosts by day, usually in a well-foliaged tree, not necessarily near feeding grounds.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Open water or wetland habitats.

NEST: Nests in small to large colonies, usually with other heron species, in almost any habitat: wooded areas near coastal marshes, spruce groves on marine islands, hardwood forests on offshore islands, swamps, cattail marshes on prairies, clumps of tall grass on dry ground, apple orchards, and sometimes in city parks. Nests close together on the ground to over 160 feet high in trees, and may be well concealed or in the open.

FOOD: Forages mainly at night, by standing and waiting, or walking slowly along shallow margins of lakes, mud-bordered bays, and in marshy places where there is standing or slow-running water. Eats fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, snakes, toads, crayfish, crabs, shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, dragonflies, algae, succulent plants, young birds, and small mammals.

REFERENCES: Grinnel and Miller 1944, Low and Mansell 1983, Palmer 1962, Sykes in Farrand 1983a, Terres 1980, Verner and Boss 1980.

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