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Nycticorax nycticorax (Blackcrowned night heron)

Gewone nagreier [Afrikaans]; uSiba [Zulu]; Hakaruu gomasiku [Kwangali]; Kokolofitoe (generic term for heron) [South Sotho]; Kwak [Dutch]; Bihoreau gris [French]; Nachtreiher [German]; Garça-nocturna [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Ardeidae

Nycticorax nycticorax (Blackcrowned night heron)
Black-crowned night-heron. [photo Tony Faria ©] Black-crowned night-heron. [photo Sion Stanton ©]
Nycticorax nycticorax (Blackcrowned night heron)
Black-crowned night-heron juvenile, Milnerton Sewage Works, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ©] Black-crowned night-heron. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from Japan and South-East Asia to Europe south to Madagascar and sub-Saharan Africa, largely absent from the DRC and Angola. In southern Africa, it is common in central and southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, much of South Africa (excluding the arid Karoo and Kalahari), northern and eastern Botswana and patches of Namibia, including the Caprivi Strip. It generally prefers slow-moving water bodies with plenty of emergent vegetation, such as estuaries, swamps, marshes, lakes, mangroves, rivers, dams and sewage ponds.

Distribution of Black-crowned night-heron in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Nomadic, as it makes local movements in response to rainfall.


It eats fish and a variety of other animals, foraging at dusk and night to prevent competition with other herons. It mainly hunts by either waiting on a perch or on the shoreline, catching anything that comes to close, or by wading through the water and stabbing prey. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous colonial nester, breeding in groups of 10-1000 nests along with other water birds, with each male establishing a territory around a platform on which it displays to females.
  • The nest is built by the female with material provided by the male, consisting of a platform of sticks and reeds, typically placed in a reedbed or more rarely a flooded bush or tree, or even on a cliff overhanging a river.
  • Egg-laying season is year-round, mainly peaking during the rain season, such as December-January in Zimbabwe and September-October in the Western Cape.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 22-26 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents, first leaving the nest for the surrounding vegetation after about 20-25 days. They only fledge when they are 40-50 days old.


Not threatened, in fact its southern African population is increasing in size.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.