Tag Archives: Grey heron

Bird of the week – Week 66 : Black-headed heron

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.

Black-headed heron

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 heron

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“.

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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.

Black-headed heron

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.

 

Bird of the week – Week 57: Grey heron

Large grey herons are a common sight at many dams, rivers estuaries, lagoons and other bodies of water within southern Africa. 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 similar in size and general grey appearance, they are not difficult to tell apart.
Grey heron

The Grey heron is a large bird, about 94 cm in length, and, as mentioned, has predominantly grey plumage. Its head and neck long are white (the Black-headed heron has a black crown and black hind-neck), it has a distinct broad black eyebrow, long brownish legs and a bright yellow bill. During the breeding period the bill becomes bright orange and the legs become pink. In flight the under wings are uniformly grey (the Black-headed heron is black and white under-wing). The sexes of the Grey heron are alike in plumage and the females are slightly larger than the males.
Grey heron
Active both during the day and at night, the Grey heron favours shallow water when it is feeding. It may hunt while wading or while standing perfectly still and waiting for a likely morsel to approach. It feeds mainly on fish, but also on molluscs, worms and insects. Its call, a harsh “kraank” is most commonly given when the bird is in flight. It flies slowly, with its neck retracted into an “S”, a characteristic that is common to all members of the heron family.
Grey heron
The Grey heron is generally a solitary bird, except when breeding. They are monogamous and may breed colonially, often sharing the colony with other species of waders. The nest is a platform of sticks, with the actual nesting area lined with smaller sticks and grass. The female lays a clutch of  one to four blue  or greenish-blue eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 28 days.
Grey heron
The scientific binomial for the Grey heron is Ardea cinerea; Ardea from the Latin for a heron, and cinerea from the Latin for grey. Thus the name describes a grey heron. Can’t say clearer than that.
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Bird of the week – Week 13 : Great egret

The Great egret is the largest of the white egrets. At almost a metre in length and with a wingspan of up to 1.3 metres, it is almost as large as the more familiar Grey heron. Apart from its size, the Great Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by the combination of its yellow bill and black legs and feet. When in its breeding plumage, ornamental plumes are present on its shoulders. Males and females are identical in plumage and size. Although regarded as “uncommon”, the Great egret has a very wide distribution and is to be found in many parts of the world.
It flies with relatively slow wing-beats and with its neck retracted, in the manner of all herons and egrets.
The snow-white feathers of the Great egret are beautiful, and this led the bird close to extinction in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. Fashion during those decades demanded that ladies’ hats be festooned with feathers, and it was the feathers of the Great egret that were amongst the most coveted. It is said that upwards of 300 Great egrets were slaughtered to produce just one kilogram of feathers, and that these feathers could be sold for twice the value of the same weight of gold.
It is from these valuable feathers, and especially the plumes of the breeding birds, called “aigrette” in French, that the egret derives its name. The egrets and the herons belong to the same family, with the white birds generally being referred to as egrets and the coloured birds as herons.
The Great egrets inhabit all types of wetlands, both inland and along the coast, generally feeding in shallow water, mainly on fish and frogs, which they spear with their long, sharp bills. Commonly they will stand motionless, waiting for likely prey to come within striking distance, when they will stab forward and impale the victim on their bill.  When in drier areas they feed on small mammals, grasshoppers and other insects.
The call of the Great egret is a raucous “croak-croak” which is often uttered while in flight.
The birds are usually shy and solitary, although the same couples are thought to re-unite to mate during the breeding season. The nests are platforms of sticks and twigs, with a lining of finer material, often near water and may be located in heronries with other varieties of herons. The female usually lays two to three eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about 26 days.
The scientific name of the Great egret, has changed several times (as has its common name!) and is presently Egretta alba; egretta from the French “aigrette” meaning a tuft or crest, which was later adopted as the name for an egret or a little heron; and “alba” being the Latin for white. Thus a white egret or heron. All quite sensible, really.