Black-Crowned Night Herons Fledging at Nature Boardwalk

A black-crowned night heron fledgling rests between attempts at flight.

The black-crowned night herons are always a wonderful sight at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. Heron chicks have been heard in the area since early May. Finally, now, a number of them are trying to figure out how to fly.

For the first year of their life, black-crowned night herons are brown in color and have orange eyes. Afterward their adult plumage comes in, and they gain the characteristic black crown on their head. The individual above was spotted by scientists at the Urban Wildlife Institute as the bird tried to take flight from the benches underneath the trees in the fenced-in area next to Nature Boardwalk.

Fledging is a very tiring process for these young birds, and you will often see them taking a break between attempts in the grass beneath the trees. We’re hoping that in the next few days this heron will work out the kinks and fly over to Nature Boardwalk for a snack!

An adult black-crowned night heron returns with a branch to repair its nest. Photo by Roy Slovenko

With all the heron chicks around there’s plenty of work for the adult black-crowned night herons. You can consistently see adult herons flying back toward the colony with branches in their beaks, which they use to repair nests, and there are always a few trying to catch some fish near the island at Nature Boardwalk. With all that’s going on, there are some great opportunities to get photos of these state-endangered birds.

Mason Fidino

Mason Fidino is coordinator of wildlife management in Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute.


Cutest little bird ever. I think I saw one of these birds (the adult) two days in a row along the Columbia River in Eastern Washington. It was standing along the river's edge. Does it make any sense that it would be here?

I was born and raised in Chicago and taught special education in the Chicago Public Schools so there were many, many trips to the Lincoln Park Zoo during my 34 years of teaching. LPZoo has ALWAYS been my favorite place to visit - but I used to feel that caged animals was sad but when I see over the years how LPZoo has changed with the protection factor and environmental adaptations, it is a pleasure to ride my bike there and have lunch with my sister who volunteers. She also told me about all of the wonderful programs that LPZoo supports abroad and locally.... Kudos Again!!!

We have seen ducklings trapped by the fencing around the pond and the main pond. They can't fly over the fencing to join the mother duck. What happens to them? Thanks.

Thanks for your kind comments, Gayle. We appreciate the support you and your sister have shown the zoo, and we're glad you recognize the wildlife and environmental conservation efforts our staff makes on a daily basis. Hope you come visit us again soon!

Ruth: Black-crowned night herons' summer breeding range does reach into Idaho, Oregon and some parts of eastern Washington.

Laurel: Although it may appear the ducks and ducklings are “trapped” by the fencing, they are not. They regularly come and go from the fenced areas. The best practice is to leave the waterfowl to themselves unless they are truly in distress. Zoo staff monitoring the pond have seen ducks and ducklings move in and out of the fencing. The fencing was installed to protect the plants so they have a chance to establish themselves and provide a welcoming environment for wildlife. Fencing would not have been installed if there was a threat to wildlife.

Thank you for your comments.

Mason Fidino
Coordinator of Wildlife Management
Urban Wildlife Institute, Lincoln Park Zoo

We have been having so much fun watching the wee herons grow and thrive. We were wondering what happens to babies that fall out of the trees, or those that seem to be on the ground trying to fledge but cannot get back up to the nests. Will the parents feed them on the ground? Or do they have some other source of food? (I don't know if they can eat anything other than fish.) Thank you!

Bethany, Mason responds, "Zoo staff check on the herons multiple times daily to see if any of the herons need attention. By this time most of the herons have fledged and are able to fully take care of themselves. If there ever is an issue with a heron zoo staff will collect it and take it to a rehabilitation clinic. I have not observed BCNH adults feeding young on the ground, but that should not be a problem for these birds. In addition to fish, herons will eat earthworms, insects, plants, and rodents (which can all be found in the fenced off area). Thanks for your concern!"

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