Adults are approximately 64 cm (25 in) long and weigh 800 g (28 oz). They have a black crown and back with the remainder of the body white or grey, red eyes, and short yellow legs. They have pale grey wings and white under parts. Two or three long white plumes, erected in greeting and courtship displays, extend from the back of the head. The sexes are similar in appearance although the males are slightly larger. Black-crowned night herons do not fit the typical body form of the heron family. They are relatively stocky with shorter bills, legs, and necks than their more familiar cousins, the egrets and `day` herons. Their resting posture is normally somewhat hunched but when hunting they extend their necks and look more like other wading birds. During the day they rest in trees or bushes. N. n. hoactli is more gregarious outside the breeding season than the nominate race. Immature birds have dull grey-brown plumage on their heads, wings, and backs, with numerous pale spots. Their underparts are paler and streaked with brown. The young birds have orange eyes and duller yellowish-green legs.
Habitat and Distribution
The black-crowned night heron found throughout a large part of the world, except in the coldest regions.
These birds stand still at the water's edge and wait to ambush prey, mainly at night or early morning. They primarily eat small fish, crustaceans, frogs, aquatic insects, small mammals, reptiles and small birds.
Black-crowned night herons nest in colonies on platforms of sticks in a group of trees, or on the ground in protected locations such as islands or reedbeds. Three to eight eggs are laid.
Calls and Songs
They are very noisy birds in their nesting colonies, with calls that are commonly transcribed as quok or woc.