The most widespread heron in the world, the black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) breeds across most of North America except the Rocky Mountain region and winters along the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. In our area (Modoc County CA) it is one of the last spring arrivals. However, at Baum Lake in Shasta County, about 45 miles away and 1,000 feet lower in elevation, the black-crowned night-herons are already active.
This medium-sized heron feeds throughout the day and night on fish, aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, snails, lizards, small rodents and even eggs, but is most active at dusk and during the night. The preferred habitats of black-crowned night-herons are swamps, streams, rivers, lakes and mud flats, where they can be seen patiently waiting for prey to pass. They grasp their prey and do not stab them. Black-crowned night-herons will also vibrate their bills in the water in an effort to lure prey.
An adult black-crowned night-heron has a black back, crown and nape, pale grey upper wings, rump and tail, a white face and forehead and two or three occipital plumes. The eyes are red and the legs and feet are yellow. During the breeding season the occipital plumes grow longer and the legs turn pink or orange. Both sexes are similar.
In one of the pictures the white occipital plumes are visible.
Although populations of black-crowned night-herons are considered stable, they can be common only locally (in specific habitats). I am always happy to find a small group.