The other day, I photographed a Black-Crowned Night Heron whom I believe to be our old friend, Nigel, looking quite the dapper fellow as usual. All he needed was a brim to his black cap to complete the impression of Fred Astaire in top hat and tails.
I would love to show you a Night Heron in flight, but that’s unlikely in the winter months. Why? Because, as the name suggests, the Black Crowned Night Heron becomes active almost exclusively after dark — although you may get lucky and spot one feeding at dusk. They find much less competition from Egrets and other kinds of Herons at nighttime.
During daytime, they mostly hang out inconspicuously in the underbrush, as Nigel is endeavoring to do here.
All that said, your best bet of photographing an active Black-Croiwned Night Heron in daytime would be to visit a refuge in mating season. At these times, Night Herons need extra energy, and so resort to daytime feeding.
Like other wading birds, the Black-Crowned Night Heron typically nests in trees within swampy terrain, or hidden within clumps of cattails — and they are social birds at these times, seeking places where others nest. Breeding Night Herons especially favor marsh-surrounded islands, where predators (and photographers!) find the going tough. You’ll need a long telephoto and lots of persistence, as refuges sensibly restrict visitors from getting too close to the rookeries.
Sadly, Black-Crowned Night Heron numbers are gradually declining, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, although they are still common throughout North America, and you may spot one if you keep your eyes open when visiting a nearby wetland.
Black-Crowned Night Herons feed near the top of the food chain and so are especially susceptible to organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, and heavy metals that contaminate our wetlands — and of course, like all marsh dwellers, they are falling victim to draining and development of these vital nurseries for wildlife of many kinds.