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Herons

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The family Ardeidae contains the bitterns, herons and egrets. Herons and egrets are medium to large sized wading birds with long necks and legs. Bitterns tend to be shorter necked and more wary. Unlike other long-necked birds suck as storks, ibises and spoonbills, members of Ardeidae fly with their necks retracted. There are 61 species worldwide and 17 species which occur in Namibia.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

The Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae, native throughout temperate Europe and Asia and also parts of Africa. It is resident in the milder south and west, but many birds retreat in winter from the ice in colder regions. It has become common in summer even inside the Arctic circle along the Norwegian coast.

It is a large bird, standing 90–100 cm tall, with a 175–195 cm wingspan and a weight of 1–2 kg. Its plumage is largely grey above, and off-white below. Adults have a white head with a broad black supercilium and slender crest, while immatures have a dull grey head. It has a powerful, pinkish-yellow bill, which is brighter in breeding adults. It has a slow flight, with its long neck retracted (S-shaped). This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes and spoonbills, which extend their necks. The call is a loud croaking "fraaank". The Australian White-faced Heron is often incorrectly called Grey Heron. In Ireland the grey heron is often colloquially called " crane ".

It feeds in shallow water, catching fish, frogs, and insects with its long bill. Herons will also take small mammals, reptiles and occasionally warbler nestlings, plovers, young and adult snipes, takes ducklings and tern chicks and other small birds.[2] It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim.

This species breeds in colonies in trees close to lakes, the seashore or other wetlands, although it will also nest in reedbeds. It builds a bulky stick nest.

Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala

The Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala) is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae, common throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. It is mainly resident but some west African birds move further north in the rainy season.

This species usually breeds in the wet season in colonies in trees, reedbeds or cliffs. It builds a bulky stick nest and lays 2–4 eggs.

It often feeds in shallow water, spearing fish, or frogs with its long, sharp bill. It will also hunt well away from water, taking large insects, small mammals, and birds. It will wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim.

The Black-headed Heron is a large bird, standing 85 cm tall, and it has a 150 cm wingspan. It is nearly as large as the Grey Heron, which it resembles in appearance, although it is generally darker. Its plumage is largely grey above, and paler grey below. It has a powerful dusky bill.
The flight is slow, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes, and spoonbills, which extend their necks. The white underwing coverts are striking in flight.
The call is a loud croaking.

Goliath Heron Ardea goliath

The Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath) is a large wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae. It is found in sub-Saharan Africa, with smaller numbers in Southwest and South Asia.

This is the world's largest heron. The height is 120–152 cm), the wingspan is 185–230 cm and the weight is 4–5 kg. In flight it has a slow and rather ponderous look and, unlike some other herons, its legs are not held horizontally. Male and female look similar, with an overall covering of slate gray and chestnut feathers. The head and its bushy crest, face, back and sides of the neck are chestnut. The chin, throat, foreneck and upper breast are white, with black streaks across the foreneck and upper breast. The lower breast and belly are buff with black streaks. The upper mandible is black and the lores and orbital areas are yellow with a greenish tinge. The eyes are yellow and legs and feet are black. Juveniles look similar to the adults, but are paler.

Important habitats are lakes, swamps, mangrove wetlands, with few cool water, sometimes river deltas.

Goliath Herons feed on fish, frogs, small mammals and insects. A diurnal and often rather inactive feeder, this heron hunts by standing in the shallows, or on floating vegetation, intently watching the water at its feet. As prey appears, the heron rapidly spears it with open mandibles.

Its breeding season is from November to March. These birds build a large stick nest in trees overhanging water, on the ground and in low bushes.

Purple Heron Ardea purpurea

The Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) is a wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, breeding in Africa, central and southern Europe, and southern and eastern Asia. The European populations are migratory, wintering in tropical Africa; the more northerly Asian populations also migrate further south within Asia. It is a rare but regular wanderer north of its breeding range.

The Purple Heron is a large bird, 80–90 cm tall, with a 120–150 cm wingspan, but slender for its size, weighing only 0.5-1.3 kg. It is somewhat smaller than the Grey Heron, from which it can be distinguished by its darker reddish-brown plumage, and, in adults, darker grey back. It has a narrower yellow bill, which is brighter in breeding adults.

The Purple Heron breeds in colonies in reed beds or trees close to large lakes or other extensive wetlands. It builds a bulky stick nest.

It feeds in shallow water, spearing fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, reptiles and small birds. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim. It tends to keep within reedbeds more than the Grey Heron, and is often inconspicuous, despite its size.

It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes and spoonbills, which extend their necks. The long neck of Purple Heron looks particularly snake-like, with more of an S-shape in flight. The call is a loud croaking "krek".

Great Egret Ardea alba

The Great Egret (Ardea alba), also known as the Great White Egret or Common Egret is a large, widely-distributed egret. Distributed across most of the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world.

The Great Egret is a large bird with all-white plumage that can reach one meter in height, weigh up to 950 grams and a wingspan of 165 to 215 cm. It is thus only slightly smaller than the Great Blue or Grey Heron. Apart from size, the Great Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet, though the bill may become darker and the lower legs lighter in the breeding season. In breeding plumage, delicate ornamental feathers are borne on the back. Males and females are identical in appearance; juveniles look like non-breeding adults. It is a common species, usually easily seen. It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes, ibises, and spoonbills, which extend their necks in flight.

The Great Egret is not normally a vocal bird; at breeding colonies, however, it often gives a loud croaking cuk cuk cuk.

The Great Egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds moving south from areas with colder winters. It breeds in colonies in trees close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands. It builds a bulky stick nest.

The Great Egret feeds in shallow water or drier habitats, feeding mainly on fish, frogs, small mammals, and occasionally small birds and reptiles, spearing them with its long, sharp bill most of the time by standing still and allowing the prey to come within its striking distance of its bill which it uses as a spear. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim.

Though it might appear that they feed on the parasites of African buffaloes, they actually feed on leafhoppers, grasshoppers and other insects which are stirred open as buffaloes move about in water.

Slaty Egret Egretta vinaceigula

The Slaty Egret, Egretta vinaceigula, is a small, dark egret. It breeds in Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique. It is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. It is classified as Vulnerable, the biggest threat being habitat loss.

Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca

The Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) also known as the Black Egret, is an African heron. It is a medium-sized (42.5–66 cm in height), black-plumaged heron with yellow legs and feet. It is found south of the Sahara Desert, including Madagascar, and prefers shallow open waters, such as the edges of freshwater lakes and ponds. It may also be found in marshes, river edges, rice fields, and seasonally flooded grasslands. In coastal areas, it may be found feeding along tidal rivers and creeks, alkaline lakes, and tidal flats. Its breeding range is between Senegal and Sudan and to the south. It is found mainly on the eastern half of the continent.

The Black Heron has an interesting hunting method called canopy feeding — it uses its wings like an umbrella, and uses the shade it creates to attract fish. This technique was well documented on episode 5 of the BBC's The Life of Birds. Some Black Herons feed solitarily, while others feed in groups of up to 50 individuals, 200 being the highest number reported. The Black Heron feeds by day but especially prefers the time around sunset. It roosts communally at night, and coastal flocks roost at high tide. The primary food of the Black Heron is small fish, but it will also eat aquatic insects, crustaceans and amphibians.

The nest of the Black Heron is constructed of twigs placed over water in trees, bushes, and reed beds, forming a solid structure. The heron nests at the beginning of the rainy season, in single or mixed-species colonies that may number in the hundreds. The eggs are dark blue and the clutch is two to four eggs.

Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia

The Intermediate Egret, Median Egret, or Yellow-billed Egret (Ardea intermedia) is a medium-sized heron. It is a resident breeder from east Africa across tropical southern Asia to Australia. It often nests in colonies with other herons, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs. Two to five eggs are laid, the clutch size varying with region. This species, as its scientific name implies, is intermediate in size between the Great Egret and smaller white egrets like the Little Egret and Cattle Egret, though nearer to Little than Great. It is about 90 cm tall with all-white plumage, generally dark legs and a thickish yellow bill. Breeding birds may have a reddish or black bill, greenish yellow gape skin, loose filamentous plumes on their breast and back, and dull yellow or pink on their upper legs (regional variations). The sexes are similar.

The Intermediate Egret stalks its prey methodically in shallow coastal or fresh water, including flooded fields. It eats fish, frogs, crustaceans and insects.

The non-breeding colours are similar, but the Intermediate is smaller, with neck length a little less than body length, a slightly domed head, and a shorter, thicker bill. The Great Egret has a noticeable kink near the middle of its neck, and the top of its longer bill nearly aligns with the flat top of its head. Close up, the bare skin of the Great Egret's gape line extends in a dagger shape behind the eye, while the Intermediate's is less pointed and ends below the eye. The Intermediate tends to stalk upright with neck extended forward. The Great is more patient, often adopting a sideways-leaning "one-eyed" stance.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

The Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) is a small white heron. It is the Old World counterpart to the very similar New World Snowy Egret.

The adult Little Egret is 55–65 cm long with an 88–106 cm wingspan, and weighs 350–550 grams. Its plumage is all white. The subspecies garzetta has long black legs with yellow feet and a slim black bill. In the breeding season, the adult has two long nape plumes and gauzy plumes on the back and breast, and the bare skin between the bill and eyes becomes red or blue. Juveniles are similar to non-breeding adults but have greenish-black legs and duller yellow feet. has yellow feet and a bare patch of grey-green skin between the bill and eyes. The subspecies nigripes differs in having yellow skin between the bill and eye, and blackish feet.

Little Egrets are mostly silent but make various croaking and bubbling calls at their breeding colonies and produce a harsh alarm call when disturbed.

Its breeding distribution is in wetlands in warm temperate to tropical parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. In warmer locations, most birds are permanent residents; northern populations, including many European birds, migrate to Africa and southern Asia. They may also wander north in late summer after the breeding season, which may have assisted its current range expansion. Globally, the Little Egret is not listed as a threatened species.

The Little Egret nests in colonies, often with other wading birds, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs or in a reedbed or bamboo grove. In some locations such as the Cape Verde Islands, they nest on cliffs. Pairs defend a small breeding territory, usually extending around 3–4 m from the nest. The three to five eggs are incubated by both adults for 21–25 days to hatching. They are oval in shape and have a pale, non-glossy, blue-green colour. The young birds are covered in white down feathers, are cared for by both parents and fledge after 40 to 45 days.

Little Egrets eat fish, insects, amphibians, crustaceans, and reptiles. They stalk their prey in shallow water, often running with raised wings or shuffling its feet to disturb small fish. They may also stand still and wait to ambush prey.

Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides

The Squacco Heron, Ardeola ralloides, is a small heron, 44–47 centimeters (17–19 in) long, of which the body is 20–23 centimeters (7.9–9.1 in), with 80–92 centimeters (31–36 in) wingspan. It is of Old World origins, breeding in southern Europe and the Greater Middle East. It is a migrant, wintering in Africa. It is rare north of its breeding range.

This is a stocky species with a short neck, short thick bill and buff-brown back. In summer, adults have long neck feathers. Its appearance is transformed in flight, when it looks very white due to the colour of the wings.

Their breeding habitat is marshy wetlands in warm countries. They nest in small colonies, often with other wading birds, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs. 3-4 eggs are laid.

These herons feed on fish, frogs and insects.

Rufous-bellied Heron Ardeola rufiventris


The Rufous-bellied Heron (Ardeola rufiventris) is a species of heron in the Ardeidae family. It is found in Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

The Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a cosmopolitan species of heron (family Ardeidae) found in the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate zones. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Bubulcus, although some authorities regard its two subspecies as full species, the Western Cattle Egret and the Eastern Cattle Egret. Despite the similarities in plumage to the egrets of the genus Egretta, it is more closely related to the herons of Ardea. Originally native to parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, it has undergone a rapid expansion in its distribution and successfully colonised much of the rest of the world.

It is a stocky white bird adorned with buff plumes in the breeding season which nests in colonies, usually near bodies of water and often with other wading birds. The nest is a platform of sticks in trees or shrubs. Unlike most other herons, it feeds in relatively dry grassy habitats, often accompanying cattle or other large mammals, since it catches insect and small vertebrate prey disturbed by these animals. Some populations of the Cattle Egret are migratory and others show post-breeding dispersal.

The adult Cattle Egret has few predators, but birds or mammals may raid its nests, and chicks may be lost to starvation, calcium deficiency or disturbance from other large birds. This species removes ticks and flies from cattle, but it can be a safety hazard at airfields, and has been implicated in the spread of tick-borne animal diseases.

Striated Heron Butorides striata

The Striated Heron, Butorides striata, also known as Mangrove Heron, Little Heron or Green-backed Heron, is a small heron. Striated Herons are mostly non-migratory and noted for some interesting behavioral traits. Their breeding habitat is small wetlands in the Old World tropics from west Africa to Japan and Australia, and in South America. Vagrants have been recorded on oceanic islands, such as Chuuk and Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marianas and Palau; the bird recorded on Yap on February 25, 1991, was from a continental Asian rather than from a Melanesian population, while the origin of the bird seen on Palau on May 3, 2005 was not clear.[1]

Adults have a blue-grey back and wings, white underparts, a black cap and short yellow legs. Juveniles are browner above and streaked below.

These birds stand still at the water's edge and wait to ambush prey, but are easier to see than many small heron species. They mainly eat small fish, frogs and aquatic insects. They sometimes use bait, dropping a feather or leaf carefully on the water surface and picking fish that come to investigate
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They nest in a platform of sticks measuring between 20–40 cm long and 0.5–5 mm thick. The entire nest measures some 40–50 cm wide and 8–10 cm high outside, with an inner depression 20 cm wide and 4–5 cm deep. It is usually built in not too high off the ground in shrubs or trees but sometimes in sheltered locations on the ground, and often near water. The clutch is 2-5 eggs, which are pale blue and measure around 36 by 28 mm.[4]

An adult bird was once observed in a peculiar and mysterious behavior: while on the nest, it would grab a stick in its bill and make a rapid back-and-forth motion with the head, like a sewing machine's needle. The significance of this behavior is completely unknown: While such movements occur in many other nesting birds where they seem to compact the nest, move the eggs, or dislodge parasites, neither seems to have been the case in this particular Striated Heron.

Young birds will give a display when they feel threatened, by stretching out their necks and pointing the bill skywards. In how far this would deter predators is not known.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

The Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax; simplified Chinese: ??; pinyin: yèlù ) commonly abbreviated to just Night Heron in Eurasia, is a medium-sized heron found throughout a large part of the world, except in the coldest regions and Australasia (where replaced by the closely related Rufous Night Heron, with which it has hybridized in the area of contact).

Adults are approximately 64 cm (25 in) long and weigh 800 g (28 oz). They have a black crown and back with the remainder of the body white or grey, red eyes, and short yellow legs. Young birds are brown, flecked with white and grey. These are short-necked and stout herons.

The breeding habitat is fresh and salt-water wetlands throughout much of the world. The subspecies N. n. hoactli breeds in North and South America from Canada as far south as northern Argentina and Chile, N. n. obscurus in southernmost South America, N. n. falklandicus in the Falkland Islands, and the nominate race N. n. nycticorax in Europe, Asia and Africa. Black-crowned Night Herons nest in colonies on platforms of sticks in a group of trees, or on the ground in protected locations such as islands or reedbeds. Three to eight eggs are laid.

This heron is migratory in the northernmost part of its range, but otherwise resident (even in the cold Patagonia). The North American population winters in Mexico, the southern United States, Central America, and the West Indies, and the Old World birds winter in tropical Africa and southern Asia.

These birds stand still at the water's edge and wait to ambush prey, mainly at night or early morning. They primarily eat small fish, crustaceans, frogs, aquatic insects, small mammals and small birds. During the day they rest in trees or bushes. N. n. hoactli is more gregarious outside the breeding season than the nominate race.

White-backed Night Heron Gorsachius leuconotus

The White-backed Night Heron (Gorsachius leuconotus) is a species of heron in the Ardeidae family. This relatively small and dark night heron is found throughout a large part of sub-Saharan Africa. It was formerly placed in the genus Nycticorax.

Dwarf Bittern Ixobrychus sturmii

The Dwarf Bittern (Ixobrychus sturmii) is a species of heron in the Ardeidae family. It is found in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris


The Eurasian Bittern or Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae.

Bitterns are thickset herons with bright, pale, buffy-brown plumage covered with dark streaks and bars, similar in appearance to the to the American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosa. The Eurasian or Great Bittern is 69–81 cm (24"-34") in length, with a 100–130 cm wingspan. Their most distinctive feature is the males booming call in spring.

Bitterns feed on fish, eels, amphibians and invertebrates, hunting along the reed margins in shallow water.

Males are polygamous with each mating with up to five females. The nest is built in the previous year's standing reeds and consists of a platform some 30 cm across. Four or five eggs are laid in late March and April and incubated by the female bird. After hatching, the chicks spend about two weeks in the nest and then disperse amongst the reeds.

This bittern is usually well-hidden in Phragmites reedbeds. Usually solitary, it walks stealthily seeking fish, frogs, small mammals and insects. If it senses that it has been seen, it becomes motionless, with its bill pointed upward, causing it to blend into the reeds. It is most active at dawn and dusk.

Besides the Eurasian race, Botaurus s. stellaris, another race, Botaurus s. capensis exists in southern Africa, which occurs sparingly in marshes of the east coast, the Okavango Delta and the upland foothills of the Drakensberg. The southern race suffered catastrophic decline during the 20th century due to wetland degradation, and unlike the northern race it is of highest conservation concern.

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