Backyard Buddies
Night Heron

Photo: Peter Sherratt - OEH

Night Heron

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On still summer nights, you may come upon a feathered hunter standing hunched and still in your local dam or paperbark swamp, watching the dark water with a large, baleful eye.

The Nankeen Night Heron is a large bird up to 60 cm in length and with a one metre wingspan. It has rich cinnamon plumage, huge eyes adapted to night vision, and a petrol-blue beak and cap. It lives throughout Australia, wherever there is a permanent water source.

They feed primarily at night in shallow water on a wide variety of insects, crustaceans, fish and amphibians but can occasionally be observed feeding during the day. 

The Nankeen Night Heron breeding season depends on the amount of food available. They breed in colonies, often together with egrets and cormorants. The nest is a loose stick platform over water.

Nankeen Night Herons follow the rains around the country, stopping off wherever there's the promise of fish, frogs and beetles in the local waterways. Night Herons range from Fogg Dam near Darwin to Sydney Harbour, from the Clare Valley in South Australia to the Kimberley area of Western Australia.

However, despite its ability to travel long distances, the Nankeen Night Heron, like all water birds, is being impacted by shrinking inland rivers and drying swamps.


Nankeen Night Herons rely on large melaleuca, eucalyptus and casuarina trees to roost and shelter in during the day. Plant these around creeks and dams to provide habitat and nesting sites for all water birds.

Did you know?

The scientific name of the Nankeen Night Heron is Nycticorax caledonicus. Nycticorax means 'night raven' - it's no relation, but the eerie 'croak, croak' call of the Nankeen Night Heron inspired its name.

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Photo: OEH