The Black-crowned Night Heron isn’t necessarily a rare bird, but because it is so shy and retiring, and nocturnal, is not seen very often and not very obliging for photographs. During our December 2021 visit to the Kruger National Park, we found a juvenile where the S41-road crosses the Nwanetsi stream. In the early morning it was often quite willing to sit in the open for a photo or two, and one one occasion we even got to see one of its parents flying back home on an overcast morning.
The Black-crowned Night Heron is a nocturnal bird whose habitat requirements are closely linked to slow-moving water with lush growth of emergent vegetation. As these habitats are often fleeting in this part of the world many of our local populations are nomadic in response to rainfall patterns through the region. Their prey ranges from insects and other invertebrates to fish and amphibians and even small reptiles, birds and mammals. As their name suggests these herons are active from dusk to dawn, hiding in dense vegetation by day.
Black-crowned Night Herons often breed colonially, with others of their kind or even other species of water birds. Adults form monogamous pairs with both partners participating in the nest building, incubating the clutch of 2-8 eggs (that take between 3 and 4 weeks to hatch) and rearing the chicks, who fledge at around 7 weeks of age. Breeding can take place at any time of year but reaches a peak in our wetter summer months. Fully grown they measure around 56cm in length and weigh approximately 630g.
Occurring widely but sparsely all over South Africa where there is suitable habitat, the Black-crowned Night Heron’s distribution stretches far beyond our borders to every other continent except Antarctica and Australia. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern.
Another special sighting of this bird was one we saw flying over De Hoop Vlei during broad daylight during a visit to De Hoop Nature Reserve in December 2022.