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Overview

Brief Summary

Nyctanassa violacea

A small (22-28 inches), thick-set heron, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is most easily identified by its gray body, black face with white cheek patch, and conspicuous yellow crown. Where their ranges overlap, this species may be distinguished from its relative, the Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), by the latter species’ pale face, pale breast, and, logically, by its black crown. Male and female Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are similar in all seasons. The Yellow-crowned Night Heron breeds in the eastern and southeastern United States south to Brazil. In winter, populations breeding in northern and interior portions of this species’ range migrate south to the coasts and the tropics. Coastal-breeding populations, as well as those breeding in the tropics, are non-migratory. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons inhabit a variety of wetland habitats, whether flowing or standing, large or small, and freshwater or saltwater. In tropical areas, this species may be found in mangrove wetlands and lagoons. Unlike the Black-crowned Night-Heron, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron specializes in eating crustaceans, especially crabs. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons may be best observed wading in shallow water, where they may be seen plunging their bills into the water to catch crabs. It is also possible to see Yellow-crowned Night Herons at their small nesting colonies, especially when they return to roost, or while flying with their feet extended and their necks pulled in. As its name suggests, this species hunts mainly from sunset to sunrise, although individuals may be seen during the morning and afternoon as well.

Threat Status: Least Concern

  • Nyctanassa violacea. Xeno-canto. Xeno-canto Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax violaceus). The Internet Bird Collection. Lynx Edicions, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • eBird Range Map - Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. eBird. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, N.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
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Comprehensive Description

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron ia a small, stocky (but relatively long-necked), mainly nocturnal heron. It typically forages in shallow water, feeding largely on crabs, and roosts during the day in trees or marshes (Sibley 2000). It is more solitary and often more secretive than the somewhat similar and often co-occurring Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) (Kaufman 1996).

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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDS: central Baja California, central Sonora, central and northeastern Texas, Oklahoma, northeastern Kansas, southeastern Minnesota, southern Michigan, and Massachusetts south along both coasts of Mexico to northwestern Peru and eastern Brazil, Galapagos, Bahamas, and Antilles. NORTHERN WINTER: north to central Baja California, central Sonora, Gulf Coast, and South Carolina (rarely Virginia). In the U.S., highest winter densities are in southwestern Florida (Root 1988).

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The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron breeds from central Baja California (both slopes), central Sonora, central and northeastern Texas, central Oklahoma, east-central Colorado (rarely), Kansas, southeastern Nebraska, southern and eastern Iowa, southeastern Minnesota, southern Wisconsin, southern Michigan, the lower Ohio Valley, eastern Tennessees, southeastern Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and southern Maine (rarely) south along both slopes of Mexico, the Gulf coast, Bahamas, Antilles, Middle America (including Socorro Island in the Revillagigedo Islands and Isla Maria Madre in the Tres Mafias Islands), and South America (including the Galapagos Islands) on the Pacific coast to extreme northern Peru and on the Caribbean-Atlantic coast to eastern Brazil (A.O.U. 1998).

It winters from central Baja California, central Sonora, the Gulf coast (locally), and coastal South Carolina south throughout the remainder of the breeding range (A.O.U. 1998).

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was introduced to Bermuda, where it was formerly considered casual, in the 1970s and has been breeding there since 1979 (A.O.U. 1998).

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron wanders, at least casually, north as far as central California, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota, southern Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, southern Ontario, southern Quebec, southern New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia, and to Clipperton Island (A.O.U. 1998).

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Physical Description

Size

Length: 61 cm

Weight: 716 grams

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Diagnostic Description

Adult differs from adult black-crowned night-heron in having a buffy-white crown (vs. black) and a gray back that does not contrast with the upper wing surface (vs. contrasting black back). Juvenile differs from juvenile black-crowned night-heron in having grayer upperparts with less prominent white spots and streaks, a thinner neck, and a thicker all-dark bill (vs. mostly yellow lower mandible). All ages differ from black-crowned night-heron in having longer legs that, in flight, extend well beyond the end of the tail. Differs from American bittern in having a thicker bill and in lacking flight feathers that are much darker than the back. Lacks the contrasting buffy patches on the upper-wing surface of the much smaller (length 33 cm) least bittern. Has a much thicker bill and a longer neck than does the smaller (length 46 cm) green heron.

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Based on Dunn and Alderfer 2006: The easy-to-recognize adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron has a buffy white crown and a black face with white cheeks. In the breeding season, it acquires several long buffy white head plumes that extend down behind its neck. The white-spotted brown plumaged juveniles closely resemble juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax). Yellow-crowned juveniles can be distinguished by their somewhat grayer upperparts with less conspicuous white spotting; longer neck; stouter, mostly dark bill; and larger eyes. In flight, the Yellow-crowned shows darker flight feathers and trailing edge of the wing and the legs extend farther beyond the tail. For both the Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night-Herons, full adult plumage is not acquired until the third year.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
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Comments: Marshes, swamps, lakes, lagoons, and mangroves; chiefly coastal. Mostly in large cypress swamps in Louisiana, in mangroves in Florida. Prefers mangroves and gallery forest for roosting (Costa Rica, Stiles and Skutch 1989). Nests in trees in wooded situations near water, occasionally in arid scrub on islands; sometimes on ground. Along U.S. Gulf Coast from Alabama to Texas, seems to prefer inland freshwater habitats and riverine swamps for nesting (Spendelow and Patton 1988). Nested 8-23 m up in loblolly pines in Virginia, 20-1100 m from water, primarily in highly populated residential areas (Watts 1989).

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The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron favors wooded wetlands, especially swamps, lakes, lagoons, and mangroves; it sometimes nests in wooded suburbs (A.O.U. 1998). It also commonly occurs in shallow tidal waters, as well as along lowland rivers with trees or other heavy cover nearby; it is rarely found in open marshes (Kaufman 1996).

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Most have departed from the mid-Atlantic coast of the U.S. by mid- to late September (Byrd and Johnston 1991).

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Dispersal

Over much of its extensive distribution, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is fairly sedentary (Martinez-Vilalta and Motis1992). In the United States, it may be a permanent resident in southern Florida, but over most of its range in the U.S. it is far less common in winter than in summer, with some birds traveling as far south as Panama and the Lesser Antilles (Kaufman 1996).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Eats mostly crayfishes and crabs, also other small aquatic animals (Terres 1980); feeds exclusively on crustaceans in the eastern and southern U.S. (Riegner 1982). Forages in shallows or among marsh vegetation, along seashore, on mudflats, in salt ponds, sometimes along river and pond margins (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

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Associations

The diet of the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron includes many crustaceans, especially crabs and crayfish, particularly in coastal areas. It also eats mollusks, frogs, fishes, and insects (Kaufman 1996).

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (or a close now-extinct relative) was resident in Bermuda prior to human settlement, but was subsequently largely absent for hundreds of years. In the late 1970s, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were re-introduced from Florida in an effort to control populations of the land crab Gecarcinus lateralis, which is widely regarded as a pest in Bermuda. A resident breeding population was successfully established and does consume large numbers of the crabs. Subsequent to this heron's establishment on Bermuda, examination of regurgitated pellets confirmed that land crabs comprised approximately 95% of its diet, even in winter, and a reduction of crab holes occurred on lawns and pathways in areas where the birds fed regularly (Wingate 1982).

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: > 300

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General Ecology

Usually solitary but sometimes small groups may forage in a limited area.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Behaviour

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron feeds mainly at dusk and at night (hence the common name). Although it may also forage during the day, particularly in coastal areas (Kaufman 1996), it is more strictly nocturnal than the sympatric (co-occurring) Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) and typically spends the day roosting quietly in trees or marshes (Sibley 2000).

Where common, this species may nest in colonies, sometimes with Black-crowned Night-Herons and other herons. The nest is a platform of sticks, often constructed in a tree high above the water, but sometimes low in thickets or mangoves (Kaufman 1996; Martinez-Vilalta and Motis1992).

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Cyclicity

Comments: Primarily nocturnal/crepuscular but also commonly active during daylight, especially where tidal changes determine food availability.

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Reproduction

Egg laying occurs mainly March-May in Florida, March-June in Louisiana, and April-May farther north. Clutch size usually is 2-5. Incubation, by both sexes, lasts about 27 days. Adults care for young for about 37 days; young may return to the nest site to roost for a few weeks after fledging. Single-brooded, but may lay replacement clutches. May nest in large single-species colony in some areas, but single pairs or small scattered groups on edges of other dense heronries are common (Spendelow and Patton 1988).

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Eggs 4-5 (sometimes 2-8), pale blue-green; incubation (21-25 days) and feeding are carried out by both parents (Kaufman 1996). Age at first flight is about 6 weeks (Kaufman 1996).

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Evolution and Systematics

Evolution

Systematics and Taxonomy

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was still included in the genus Nycticorax in the 6th edition of the American Ornithologists' Union's Check-list of North American Birds (1983), but based on new research was subsequently moved to the monotypic (i.e, containing just a single species) genus Nyctanassa (A .O.U. 1989: 533).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Nyctanassa violacea

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 2 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

NNNNATATCTATCTTCGGAGCATGAGCAGGCATGATTGGAACTGCCCTGAGCTTACTTATCCGGGCTGAGCTTGGACAACCAGGCACCCTACTGGGAGACGACCAAATCTACAATGTAATCGTCACCGCTCATGCCTTCGTTATAATCTTCTTCATAGTAATACCAATCATAATCGGAGGATTCGGGAACTGACTAGTTCCACTTATAATCGGCGCCCCGGATATAGCATTCCCGCGCATAAATAATATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTCCCACCATCATTCATACTCCTATTAGCCTCATCTACCGTTGAAGCGGGGGCAGGAACAGGCTGAACAGTATATCCACCATTAGCTGGCAACCTAGCCCACGCCGGAGCCTCAGTCGACCTAGCCATCTTCTCCCTCCACCTGGCAGGTGTATCATCTATCCTAGGGGCAATTAACTTCATTACAACTGCCATCAACATAAAACCCCCAGCCCTGTCACAGTACCAAACTCCTCTGTTCGTATGATCCGTCTTAATTACCGCTGTCTTGCTCCTGCTTTCACTTCCAGTCCTTGCCGCAGGCATTACTATGCTCCTAACGGACCGAAACCTAAATACCACATTCTTCGATCCTGCTGGAGGCGGAGACCCAGTCCTTTATCAACACCTCNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Nyctanassa violacea

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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