The Squacco heron is fairly common along the shorelines of freshwater dams and wetlands that have dense vegetation throughout the southern African region, with the exception of the very dry areas of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts. Beyond the southern African region they are found throughout most of Africa south of the Sahara, and also in southern Europe.
A fairly small heron, with a length of approximately 43 cm, the male Squacco herons are slightly larger than the female, and the sexes are alike in plumage coloration. They are squat birds, with buffy-brown upper parts and pale cream to white under parts and are streaked with black over the head and neck. The bill is greenish-yellow with a black tip; eyes are yellow; legs and feet red. When standing in the thick vegetation at the edge of the water, they are very well camouflaged and difficult to spot.
Squacco herons usually forage by walking slowly along the water’s edge, feeding on small fish, frogs, insects and crustaceans. They may also feed by standing very still in the shallow water and waiting for likely morsels to approach.
Although usually silent, the Squacco heron has a harsh squawk that may be heard at sunset, particularly during the breeding season. They are usually solitary birds, but may gather in small groups while feeding.
Squacco herons are monogamous and usually breed colonially. The nest that they build is a bulky platform of thin sticks, located in a tree overhanging the water, or in the reed bed at the water’s edge. The females lay a clutch of two to four greenish-blue eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 20 days.
The scientific binomial for the Squacco heron is Ardeola ralloides; Ardeola from the Latin for a “small heron” and ralliodes from the Latin for “like a rail”. Thus a small heron that resembles a rail, which is quite a good descrption, really.