Black-crowned Night Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax


Adult: Black crown and back, with green gloss which becomes stronger blue-green in breeding plumage; bluish-grey wings, rump, and tail; and white forehead, cheeks, and underparts. 2 or 3 long white plumes extend from nape right down back. Bill black; bare lores green-blue, becoming red during pairing and mating, often appearing greyish from loose scales and dried mud. Juvenile and First-year: Quite different, suggesting bittern Botaurus. Dark brown above, spotted with whitish-buff, and greyish below, streaked with dark brown. Eyes brown; legs yellow-green. After 1st summer more like adult, but crest plumes shorter, black areas browner with dull green cast, grey areas tinged with brown, and white underparts washed with brown and grey.

Identification difficulty

Forages commonly on margins of shallow fresh standing or gently flowing water. Markedly arboreal when resting, roosting, or nesting, using trees of many species. Where woody growth absent, uses reedbeds and other emergent vegetation. Walks, wades, climbs, and sometimes swims; flies freely, usually at low altitudes, but fairly high on migration.

When to see it

It has only been recorded in VC55 on six occasions in recent times and in the UK most records occur during late March to mid-May, which are mainly overshooting adults. Autumn records are rarer and usually involve juveniles.

Life History

Mainly crepuscular. Roosts by day in thick cover, especially leafy trees. It breeds only all continents except Australasia and Antarctica with most European birds wintering in sub-Saharan Africa. Usually a colonial nester and often nesting amongst other herons and ibis but only loosely gregarious outside the breeding season. Most UK records are of single birds.

UK Status

This is a scarce migrant bird to the UK which is usually less than twenty records per annum.

VC55 Status

In Leicestershire & Rutland it is classified as a very rare vagrant from Europe with seven records of eight birds prior to 2013.

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Leicestershire & Rutland Map


Yellow squares = NBN records (all known data)
Coloured circles = NatureSpot records: 2020+ | 2015-2019 | pre-2015

UK Map