Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Nyctanassa violacea
Search Common:                 Search Scientific:
General Comments Though the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron can be somewhat nocturnal, it frequently forages during the day. However, it is our least numerous breeding heron/egret, with breeding habits, habitats, and especially locations still not well understood. Although a few pairs nest with other waders on coastal islands, most breed in small groups (probably two to five pairs) in remote swamps, though a few colonies are present in the middle of Piedmont cities! As with the Green Heron, nearly all birds leave the state in fall, and it is rarely seen in winter. Yellow-crowns prefer to forage in freshwater areas near swamps and thickets, often on crayfishes; however, they also feed on crabs in salt or brackish channels and shallow waters.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status SR
U.S. Status
State Rank S2B
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Summer resident and transient. Generally uncommon along most of the coast, but fairly common at least locally along the southern coast (Brunswick and New Hanover); also uncommon in the Tidewater zone; mostly mid-Apr to mid-Oct; very rare into Dec or early Jan. The only known record of a wintering bird was an adult seen along the US 64 causeway between Manteo and Nags Head, 28 Dec 2013 - 28 Feb 2014; the bird remained through the entire following winter (2014-15), as well. However, some reports from CBC's, typically immatures, likely represent mis-identified immature Black-crowned Night-Herons. Farther inland, a rare and poorly-known breeder and migrant. Nests sparingly along the Roanoke River, and probably also blackwater rivers such as the Northeast Cape Fear. An unusual report was one seen in the Gulf Stream out of Hatteras, 21 Jul 2011 [Chat 75:156 link]. Peak counts:
Piedmont Transient, post-breeding visitor, and sparse breeder. Rare and local throughout, and no records for most counties; mainly from late Apr to late Sep. Nests in small colonies in a few cities -- Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Durham; however, there are few nesting reports from the region away from cities! Two nests (with an excellent nine juveniles) were found in Ephesus Park (Orange) on 18 Jun 2023. A nest with adults found near Cramerton (Gaston) in May 2016 is slightly farther west than other nesting records. Away from cities, most frequent as a post-breeding visitor at mudflats and beaver ponds. Only one winter report, an adult at Winston-Salem, 1-7 Jan 1998. Peak counts: 14 adults (plus 12 young), Charlotte, 20-31 May 2002.
Mountains Transient. Very rare, and only in the lower mountains, mostly from Henderson; nearly all records from Apr and late July-Aug. An adult near Hot Springs (Madison) on 10 Jun 2007 was quite unusual, as was an immature along Hooper Lane in Henderson on 19 Jul 2014. Peak counts: 2, immatures at Beaver Lake (Buncombe), 14 Jul 2021; one, on many dates.
Finding Tips Areas where they can be seen somewhat regularly are the Twin Lakes ponds on the mainland part of Sunset Beach, Orton Plantation, and the Ocracoke area. One does not have to be at these sites near dawn or dusk.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-10-20], LeGrand[2021-11-07], LeGrand[2020-10-20]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.