The Black-crowned Night-Heron

Rare Night-Herons rendition of “16 Tons” by the Platters

The lighthouse moaned. The Black-crowned

Night-Heron barked.

Rogan Kelly, from “Caboter Off Barnegat Light”

Photographs by Rejean Bedard

Black-crowned Night-Heron, (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Not a seagull. Often mislabeled as lazy by daytime bird enthusiasts who don’t appreciate the Night-Heron’s moon-barking way. Medium-sized, rudely called the boxy heron. Gifted with a stout black bill, like a dagger, red eyes like a loon, and fine yellow gams. Formidable wingspan with a beeline flight pattern and slow, steady wing beats. Given amazing balance and feel in their feet, coupled with a snapping reflex that makes this bird a formidable hunter from the bluffs and rocks, mudflats and overgrown rushes.

Fun Facts
  1. They do not distinguish between their chicks and the chicks of other nests. They will brood babes which are not their own.

    Nachtreiher (Night Herons), 1896, color woodcut, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Otto Eckmann

  2. They are a patient hunter. Will often stand still and just wait for a frog to arrive. May also hunt by vibrating their barking bills in the water to lure prey into investigating the disturbance, which is both genius and where they get their death wish reputation for antagonizing crocodiles.

    Oil Painting; The Black-Crowned Night Heron and the Snowy Egret at Malibu Beach, Eiko Tsuchiya

  3. A group of Night-Herons has many collective nouns, including a battery, hedge, pose, a rookery, and scattering. Most wide-spread heron in the world.

    Woodcut style art by Jeff Thompson

  4. Nycticorax means “night raven,” referring both to their reputation as a bird not to be trifled with and their tendency to recite Poe.

Black-crowned Night-Heron’s call is a loud, barking “kowak” or “quawk” often heard at night or at dusk. In nesting colonies, they utter a variety of croaks, barks, buzzes, hisses, and the occasional rendition of the song, 16 Tons.

Brace yourself for the glory that is the Black-crowned Night-Heron’s bark.