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Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Nyctanassa violacea
– Family
Authors: Watts, Bryan D.

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Adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Sanibel Is., FL, 3 March.
Figure 1. Distribution of the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in North and Middle America.

In full nuptial display, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is one of the most exquisite of all North American wading birdsIts soft grays and white crown and cheek patches seem to typify the elfin character of the cypress gloom.

— A. Sprunt, Jr.

Although occasionally breeding on coastal islands, this species most often inhabits forested wetlands, swamps, and bayous of the deep south where poor lighting seems to be the most reliable characteristic of its breeding sites.

Across its range, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron specializes in taking crustaceans, especially crabs, which it hunts using slow stalking movements. When it catches a large crab, the bird methodically dismembers and eats it, body first. Indeed, the breeding ecology of the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron reflects the temporal dynamics of crab availability. Northern populations retreat to subtropical and tropical latitudes in the fall where crabs are active year-round.

Six subspecies of this heron have been described, including five tropical forms, two of which are island endemics. The North American subspecies, N. v. violacea, experienced a dramatic northward range expansion between 1925 and 1960, with eleven new state breeding records established over this period. Many of these areas had been previously occupied during the mid-1800s, followed by a sharp range contraction in the late 1800s.