Native range: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela (BirdLife International 2009).
Capped Herons are exclusively neotropical, predominantly Amazonian, extending into northern and south-central South America. Found in the lowlands up to 900 m (Parker et al. 1996) from central Panama south to northern Bolivia, northern Paraguay, and southeastern Brazil (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989). In Panama, rare to uncommon on Pacific slope from central province of Panama (Tocumen area) east to Darien (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989). Now mainly found in Darien (Wetmore 1965), where it may be seasonal (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Also on the Caribbean slope of Panama in the upper Chagres River valley (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989). In Venezuela, found from llanos (a tropical plain to the east of the Andes) up to 500 m (Hilty 2003). Uncommon in Ecuador and only found below 400 m (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001).
The Capped Heron is believed to be resident throughout its range. There may be seasonal movement in Darien, Panama. It seems to be absent for several months, but this may reflect a shift in feeding grounds rather than a migration (Hancock and Kushlan 1984, Kushlan and Hancock 2005).
The elevational distribution of the Capped Heron is from sea level up to 900 m (Parker et al. 1996).