Black-crowned Night Heron

Hey guys, welcome back. Today’s bird is a short, stocky, short-necked heron, and the first heron that wasn’t a great blue heron I remember ever seeing. The Black-crowned Night Heron (often abbreviated BCNH by birders because the name is a mouthful) is one of the most widespread herons in the world. They’re very common across the U.S. but if you look at their range map, it’s kind of all over the place! It looks like a container of rainbow sherbet with the colors representing breeding, winter, year-round, and migration areas all swirled together. Although very widespread, it’s possible that you’ve seen very few. As their name suggests, they typically hunt for food in the evenings, around dusk. Though they can be seen all day, they’re typically roosting in dense vegetation during the day.

Black-crowned Night Heron1
Black-crowned Night Heron, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

Juveniles are a streaky grey-brown, but adults have a dark grey back, whitish (sometimes tinged yellow) belly, a black crown and two long white plumes on their head. You’ll also notice their striking red eyes. A former coworker of mine in Central Park referred to them as “spaghetti penguins” because of the plumes, and their overall color. Funny thing about that is, there’s a BCNH that hangs out near the outdoor penguin exhibit at the St. Louis Zoo. He’s almost always there, trying to blend in so that he can grab some free fish when the keepers do the penguin feedings. Funny story, my friend Matt, who is a bird keeper at the zoo, told me that one time that heron was outside the penguin exhibit and a few people had reported that one of the penguins had escaped hahaha!

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Black-crowned Night Heron, Central Park, NY

Despite them not being in St. Louis year round according to the aforementioned range map, they love hanging out in the St. Louis Zoo. They aren’t part of the zoo’s collection, but they know a good thing when they see it. All of last winter, for example, I’d see at least two and sometimes as many as six hanging out at one of the lakes in the zoo. In Central Park and NYC, they were quite common as well, but I never saw one in winter. BCNHs have a distinct shape that is different from the stereotypical heron silhouette, giving them a look all their own. This, and their “penguin-like” coloration make them an easy bird to ID. Join me next time for another bird that is relatively easy to ID, if you can find it that is, the tiny ruby-crowned kinglet! See you all then!

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