Tag Archives: Black-headed heron

The day of the mouse!

You don’t have to spend very long in a game reserve or park to realize that it a very treacherous environment for the four-legged, two-legged and even the legless inhabitants. With very few exceptions, almost every animal or bird or reptile is on some other animal’s or bird’s or reptile’s menu. Take the mouse as an example.

Mouse

Recently we spent four days in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a wonderful experience (except for the state of the roads – corrugations to test the strength of the cement anchoring your dental fillings). The larger animals are, as always, the dramatic drawcard, but we noticed that mice are also fairly common and several times we watched them feeding in the branches of shrubs at the side of the road or scurrying about in the sparse vegetation.

In quick succession, though, we were exposed to the dangers that these little rodents face throughout their lives. First we happened upon a Pale chanting goshawk perched on a dead branch quite near the road, feeding on a mouse or rat. He (or she) took just a minute or two to rip the rodent into pieces and bolt these down with hardly a pause.

Southern pale chanting goshawk Southern pale chanting goshawk

We moved on and quite soon stopped to watch a Secretarybird hunting. He (or she) pounced forward and stamped his (or her) feet enthusiastically on something that was hidden from us in the long grass. He (or she) stooped and came up with a mouse, holding it rather daintily in his (or her) bill. The little rodent was swallowed quickly in one piece and there was nothing dainty about that.

Secretarybird Secretarybird

On we drove, and literally within minutes spotted a Black-headed heron in the dry scrubland. We stopped to watch as we are far more accustomed to seeing these large birds at rivers and dams, but there were no rivers or dams anywhere near this spot. We had seen a Black-headed heron at a small artificial waterhole a little earlier and had idly wondered what it found there to feed on. The bird we stopped to watch in the arid scrub had caught a Striped mouse, and within a few seconds had swallowed it whole. One second the mouse was in the heron’s bill (presumable dead), and the next it was gone. Well, not entirely, for just another second the short end of its tale hung from the heron’s bill. Then it was gone.

Black-headed heron Black-headed heron

Three mice taken by three different species of birds within just a few hours, and just within our limited view. What is the daily total within the vast area of the whole park?

Each time we look at the mice we photographed during that visit to Kgalagadi we wonder where they are now…

 

 

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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