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Pont du Gau, Camargue, France, July, 2022.

The Bird

Black-crowned Night-Herons are mostly active at night or at dusk, when you may see their ghostly forms flapping out from roosts in trees near the water to forage, where they spend the daytime quietly together. They have grey-and-black plumage and long white-head plumes, but what fascinates us is the red eye which makes the bird a mysterious look. When in flight they are easy to identify compared to other herons as the ends of their wings are nicely rounded, compared to for example the Grey Heron which are quite sharp.


The Black-Crowned Night Heron is one of the most widespread herons in the world, it can be found in the Americas, Europe and also Asia, with the characteristic of juveniles dispersing in all directions of their colonies for even a thousand kilometres.


The European ones can either winter in the northern hemisphere, but many migrate down south to West Africa. Birds tend to migrate at night alone or in small groups, stopping at various migration hotspots on the flyway.

The Sound

The voice of the Black-Crowned Night Heron is a short, deep croak, which can be done in series. It sounds like a quak or wha(t), like it’s asking an open-ended question. It’s usually heard at dusk, dawn or at night, times when it’s the most active.

- Use the Player to listen to the call. -


These social birds breed in colonies of stick nests usually built over water, living in a wide variety of aquatic habitats around both fresh and salt water, including marshes, rivers, ponds, mangrove swamps, tidal flats, canals, and ricefields. They nest in groves of trees, thickets, or on the ground, usually on islands or above water perhaps to avoid predators. 

This recording is from a heronry in Pont De Gau in the Camargue. A heronry is a place where many Herons, often from different species, roost and nest.

Our Encounter

It was May 2022, one of the first days of our “Phase 1” Expedition, our test-drive journey following the bird migration on the East Atlantic Flyway, figuring out why, how and what we wanted to do. We just arrived in Urdaibai, Basque Country, Spain our first-ever migratory hotspot for this project, and we couldn’t wait to start working in the field. It was one of the first dusk times at the reserve, the sunlight faded away almost completely when we heard a quak coming from some trees, and saw some silhouettes, never hear that thing before. Figuring out what you’ve heard just by its sound and doing some research yourself is really rewarding, but when you have no clue of what that could be, apps on your smartphone such as Birdnet can help. It was a Black-Crowned Night Heron, one of the only migratory herons from Europe, bingo! But you always have to remember that wildlife doesn’t follow scripts o instructions on how to behave if you want to get either a good picture or audio recording. It was the first and last time we saw or heard one in Urdaibai, we just couldn’t figure out where they were.


Two months later we were in Camargue, South of France, precisely at the Parc Ornithologique Pont De Gau, a beautiful location where the mission is for people to see birds so close that you don’t need to use binoculars, as Fred Lamauroux, the reserve’s director, told us. Pont De Gau is about making the visitors “wow” by making them part of nature, not detached from it as we’re used to, and Fred is absolutely right you don’t need binoculars, we’ve never been so close to birds in their natural habitat. The reserve has a huge number of birds of different species, from the Camargue’s emblematic Flamingos to the majority of Heron species, one of which stole our attention, the Black-Crowned Night Heron. It looks different from the other Herons, its grey back and white belly with the blood-injected eye make it so clearly distinguishable from the other herons. 


10% of the profit from the Black-Crowned Night Heron postcard and print goes to the Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau, Camargue, France, where these pictures, videos and sounds have been taken from.


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