CROW Case of the Week: Black-Crowned Night Heron (#18-2311)

The black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is unlike most herons in appearance. Instead of being thin and rangy like that of a blue heron, it is more or less stocky and compact. It has a thick neck that gets tucked into its body to create a hunchback look. When in flight, this heron tucks in its neck so much that it can appear neck-less.

Black-crowned night herons often spend their days perched on tree limbs or hidden among foliage and branches. Also, unlike most herons, this species forages in the evening and at night, usually in water, on mudflats and on land. Studies say they do so to avoid competition with other herons that use the same habitat during the day.

Regarded as the most widespread heron in the world, the black-crowned night heron breeds in colonies and nests in groups that include other herons, egrets and ibises. They are so widespread that they are called a cosmopolitan species due to their ability to nest on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. The black-crowned night heron adult has a dark-colored cap and backside to contrast its pale white or gray underside and wings. 

The appearance of juvenile blackcrowned night herons is in complete contrast. They have less of a hunchback posture, and their plumage is more brown and streaky. Young blackcrowned night herons leave the nest at the age of one month, but cannot fly until they are six weeks old. They often move through the vegetation on foot and join foraging flocks at night.

At CROW, a juvenile black-crowned night heron was admitted from Fort Myers after reportedly falling out of its nest. The finder reportedly did see the bird falling from a high nest onto the ground and suspected that the heron could have suffered trauma. Upon examination, it was noted that the heron was thin, and its right leg was bruised and slightly bent. Radiographs confirmed it had sustained a fracture to the tarsometatarsus bone of the injured leg. 

“The tarsometatarsal bone is common in most bird species,” said Dr. Malka Spektor, CROW veterinary intern. “It is the long bone above the foot and below the hock joint. The hock joint is what looks like a bird’s knee, but is more comparable to a human ankle.”

CROW medical staff noted the fracture had already begun to heal, but not enough that the fracture was stable. “The fracture showed signs it was healing prior to the bird being admitted to the clinic. It had radiographic evidence of healing, but it was not 100 percent stable, so a splint was used for added stability,” said Dr. Spektor.

Veterinarians placed its leg in a splint, and the bird was provided with subcutaneous fluids and pain medication. After two weeks in the clinic, the patient appears to be recovering nicely. “The splint was removed over the weekend,” added Dr. Spektor. “The patient will continue with further cage rest while it continues to heal, and then will need continued care until it reaches an age where it can hunt and survive on its own.” 


CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.

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