Comparing Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons

Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Heron adults

The adult Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons aren’t terribly difficult to tell apart though the juveniles can be more of a challenge.

Black-crowned Night Herons have red eyes, a black crown and white plume, a short white to pale gray neck, a very pale gray belly, a solid black back and pale yellow legs that a red during breeding season. Black-crowned Night Herons have a black bill that is shorter and more slender than a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. They appear chunky and squat compared to a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. Yellow-crowned Night Herons have orange-red eyes,  a white crown with a slight yellow tint & white plume, they have a black head with a white cheek patch, a long slender gray neck and belly, a gray back with a pattern and yellow legs. Yellow-crowned Night Herons have a thick black long bill. They appear slender compared to a Black-crowned Night Heron.

Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Heron juveniles
The juveniles are slight more difficult to ID but some features make them easier to identify.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons are chunky and squat like the adults and have short necks. The bill of a juvenile is dark on top and green to yellowish on the bottom, the lores are sometimes a greenish color and the wings have large white spots on a brown back. Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Herons are slender in appearance and have long slender necks. The bill of a juvenile is mostly black and the back and wings have fine spots and the overall color is darker than a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.

Additionally, geographic location should be taken into account when making an identification in that Black-crowned Night Herons have a much larger range that covers most of the United States into southern Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Yellow-crowned Night Herons are found mainly on the east coast of the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Pingback: Birding News #2 | Prairie Birder

  2. Great tutorial Mia! We have plenty of Black-crowned around here, but sometimes Yellow-crowned have been spotted! I’ve often wondered if I would know if I was seeing a Yellow-crowned! It really helps to see them side by side & for you to point out the differences!

  3. Mia, what a wonderful post comparing these 2 species! Very well done and informative.

  4. Great comparison!

  5. Awesome pics, Mia! Having pictures of the birds side by side is a great way to recognize the differences and memorize how to tell the differences between them.

  6. fantastic !!! thanks mia ☺

  7. It’s so easy when they’re side-by-side!

  8. These are excellent comparison photographs, Mia! Very cool birds!

  9. Quite a difference when you actually see them side by side. Nice comparison Mia.

  10. This is so instructional and well designed Mia, thanks. When I was in FL, I saw a Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron and got the ID messed up.

  11. Excellent article and terrific comparison photos, Mia.

  12. Back in the 80’s and 90’s there was a large rookery of herons ( I thought black crowned at the time) at the National Zoo in Washington, DC! I was visiting with my sons who were quite young at the time, so I couldn’t stay as long as I might have to watch! Impressively noisy!
    Appreciate the comparative looks, great tutorial. Thank you!

  13. Excellent side-by-side format Mia!

  14. Great comparison photos Mia, I love hoe you’ve got the respective species squaring off with its cousin. Family rivalry!

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