Large grey-coloured herons are a common sight at many dams, river estuaries, lagoons and other bodies of water within southern Africa and throughout most of Africa south of the Sahara. Unmistakable with their long necks, long legs and dagger-like beaks, the Grey heron and the Black-headed heron share an almost identical range and although they are fairly similar in size and general grey appearance, they are not difficult to tell apart.
The Black-headed heron is very slightly smaller than the Grey heron, with a length of 94 cm and a wingspan approaching one and a half metres. It is largely grey in colour, with a black crown and hind neck; legs and feet are black and the yellow eyes become red during the breeding season. The sexes are alike in both size and plumage.
In flight, the Black-headed heron has a slow wingbeat, and, like all the herons, retracts its neck. The white and grey under wings are conspicuous and easily distinguish it from the Grey heron which has all grey under wings.
Black-headed herons feed mainly in shallow water, but will also feed away from the water, in open grasslands and cultivated fields. It feeds mainly on invertebrates, small mammals and reptiles, and sometimes on small birds. Their call is a very loud “kwaak“.
Black-headed herons are monogamous and usually nest colonially in heronries with various other wading birds. They build a large platform nest of sticks that may be situated in the reeds surrounding a body of water, but is more usually placed in a tree over the water. The female lays a clutch of two to four pale green or bluish eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about 25 days.
The scientific binomial for the Black-headed heron is Ardea melanocephala; Ardea from the Latin for a heron and melanocephala from the Greek for black-headed. Thus we have a Black-headed heron which is quite sensible, really.