Bird GuideHerons, Egrets, BitternsYellow-crowned Night Heron

At a Glance

More solitary and often more secretive than the Black-crowned Night-Heron, the Yellow-crowned is still quite common in parts of the southeast. Particularly in coastal regions, often feeds by day as well as by night. Its stout bill seems to be an adaptation for feeding on hard-shelled crustaceans -- it is called 'crab-eater' in some locales. The species was introduced into Bermuda in a successful attempt to bring land crabs under control there.
Herons, Egrets, Bitterns, Long-legged Waders
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

May be permanent resident in southern Florida, but in most of United States range it is far less common in winter than in summer. Withdraws from most of northern and inland breeding range in winter, some migrants going as far south as Panama and Lesser Antilles. In late summer, a few wander far to north. Strays from western Mexico reach southwestern United States.


22-27" (56-69 cm). W. 3'8 (1.1 m). Adult all gray, with black and white face pattern (pale yellow on crown not usually obvious). Juvenile very similar to young Black-crowned Night-Heron but has longer legs, thicker all-black bill, often a grayer look with smaller pale spots above. In flight, feet extend much farther past tip of tail.
About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull, About the size of a Heron
Black, Brown, Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Fingered, Long
Tail Shape

Songs and Calls

A loud quawk! that is higher pitched than that of Black-crowned Night-Heron.
Call Pattern
Flat, Simple
Call Type
Croak/Quack, Raucous, Scream


Cypress swamps, mangroves, bayous, streams. Commonly occurs in shallow tidal waters, also along lowland rivers, where trees or other heavy cover nearby. Seldom in open marshes. Nests in mangrove or cypress swamps, riverside groves, thickets near water. Sometimes nests in trees within suburbs or cities.



4-5, sometimes 2-8. Pale blue-green. Incubation is by both sexes, 21-25 days.


Both parents feed young. Age at first flight unknown.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking slowly on land or in shallow water, or standing still waiting for prey to approach. Feeds at dusk and at night, but also commonly by day. Feeding schedule near coast probably influenced by tides.


Includes many crustaceans. More of a specialist than most herons. Feeds heavily on crustaceans, mainly crabs and crayfish, especially in coastal areas. Also some mollusks, frogs, insects, fish. On inland waters, diet may be more varied.


Breeding behavior not well known. Often nests in isolated pairs or in very small groups, especially in northern part of range. Where common, nests in colonies, sometimes mixed with Black-crowned Night-Herons or other waders. Displays include stretching the neck upward with bill pointing skyward, crouching with all plumes erected, and giving a loud call. Pairs greet each other by raising crest, calling, touching bills, nibbling at each other's feathers. Nest: Site is usually in tree 30-40' above ground, but sometimes very close to ground or water in thickets, mangroves. Nest is a platform of sticks, lined with finer twigs and sometimes leaves.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Apparently stable. In recent decades has expanded breeding range northward in some areas.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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