Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Black-crowned Night-Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax
ARDEIDAE Members:
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General Comments The Black-crowned Night-Heron is our only truly nocturnal waterbird. Birds roost in thickets, usually close to water, during the day, and emerge at dusk to fly to favored foraging sites. As the species is primarily coastal, it most often forages along tidal creeks, pools, and mudflats, but birds also forage around brackish water and at coastal freshwater ponds. It nests on coastal islands with other wading birds; not until 2008 was the species found nesting away from tidal water (Columbus), even though the species nests well inland in many other Eastern states. It does migrate through inland portions of the state, but its nocturnal nature means that few birds are actually encountered. One potential problem with record-keeping is that immatures of this species and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron can be confused; thus, a few reports of such birds (especially inland) might well be mis-identified. Numbers of breeding pairs have slowly declined in recent decades, but not so much as to have the species listed as State Special Concern.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status W
U.S. Status
State Rank S3B,S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Permanent resident coastally, and a transient inland. Along the coast, fairly common to locally common all year, though there is some migration; one of the more numerous of the wintering waders, but not easily seen except in flight at dusk or at known roosting sites. Generally rare to uncommon in the Tidewater zone, most frequently seen along the shores of Pamlico Sound (mainland). Farther inland, a very rare or poorly known migrant, most often from early Apr to mid-May. Unusual was as many as seven birds that overwintered in 2006-07 [7 Dec to 17 Feb] at far-inland Goldsboro. Peak counts:
Piedmont Transient and post-breeding visitor. Rare and secretive, mostly in Apr and May, and again from late Jul to mid-Sep; casual in winter, with just a few records. Peak counts: 8, Bunn Lake near Zebulon (Wake), 23 Sep 1991; 5, Jordan Lake, 17 Sep 2005.
Mountains Transient and post-breeding visitor. Rare, with 25-30 records, at low elevations in the southern counties; casual to very rare in the central and northern mountains. Generally from early Apr to mid-May, and mid-Jul to mid-Aug. No known records between mid-Sep and early Apr. Peak count: 2, on four dates.
Finding Tips This species is usually found along the coast at any season, but you might need to wait around tidal mudflats and marshes until dusk, when the birds fly from their roosts to the flats. Roosting birds can at times be seen sitting quietly in shrub thickets. At any rate, you are not likely to see the species feeding in the open during daylight hours. The species is too rare inland to search for intentionally.
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Attribution LeGrand[2018-02-02], LeGrand[2013-08-09], LeGrand[2012-05-13]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

View NatureServe distribution maps for Nycticorax nycticorax