South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Black-crowned Night Heron

Nycticorax nycticorax

Length: 25 inches Wingspan: 45 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Black cap and back, gray wings, red eyes, white underparts

Black-crowned Night-Heron - Nycticorax nycticoraxThe Black-crowned is the Night Heron most likely to be seen in South Dakota.  Less solitary than the Yellow-crowned Night Heron (a rare visitor to the state), they are often seen in large groups during the day, sitting motionless in trees or thickets.  Black-crowned Night Herons are also more nocturnal of the two species, feeding primarily at night.  

Habitat: Wide variety of fresh and salt-water habitats.

Diet: Omnivorous, feeding on fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, small rodents, small reptiles, small birds, and occasionally plant material. 

Behavior: Forages in shallow water, either standing still and waiting for prey to come within range, or walking slowly in search of food.  Will forage at any time of day, but is typically most active from dusk through dawn.

Nesting: June and July.  Black-crowned Night-Herons breed in colonies, sometimes single species colonies, but often in mixed colonies with other wading bird species.  The nest is a platform of sticks, most often placed in trees and shrubs, but sometimes on the ground.  The female usually lays 3 or 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young fledge after about 6 weeks.

Interactive eBird Map: Click to access an interactive eBird map of Black-crowned Night-heron sightings

Song: Black-crowned Night Heron Song

Migration: Summers throughout much of the U.S. and southern Canada.  Winters along U.S. coasts, Mexico, and Central America.

Similar Species: Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Conservation Status: Expanding in both range and numbers after declining in the mid-20th century.  The IUCN lists the Black-crowned Night-Heron as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Black-crowned Night Heron

2) Black-crowned Night Heron

3) Black-crowned Night Heron

Photo Information: May 14th, 2010 - Lake Whitewood in eastern South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Black-crowned Night Heron photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Black-crowned Night-heron - Range map
South Dakota Status: Common summer breeding resident in the northeastern part of the state, uncommon elsewhere in the east.  Rare in the western part of the state.