Herons

The first gallery displays photos of herons that belong to the Ardeidae family, which also includes egrets and bittern, see Taxonomy note below. I photographed these mainly in temperate and tropical wetlands including, swamps, lakes, and parks. This page also features photo essays of purple, grey and striated herons together with an image gallery of other species depicting feeding, hunting and other behaviours.

Herons

Heron Notes

All featured species are ‘Red List 2019’ assessed as ‘Least Concern’. The heron family of birds range from medium to large, have long legs and necks relative to their bodies. Their toes are particularly long helping them wade in mudflats or support on vegetation. They prey on most aquatic food such as fish crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Some species are specialist hunters while others feed on a variety of animals and are often opportunists.

Herons are not generally sexual dimorphic although some species do exhibit size dimorphism with males being slightly bigger than females. Both featured bitterns exhibit plumage dimorphism. Some species also occur in colour variations; light and dark morphs, the great blue heron and pacific reef-egret displayed in the gallery are dark morphs. Both the pied heron and rufous night-heron feature adult and immature birds. As well as nominate species, many of the images are subspecies in the region where photographed.

Grey herons (Ardea cinerea) have an extensive distribution being a native resident in large parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. Two displayed subspecies: A.c. jouyi a resident Singapore bird that has black streaks on the neck and some black on the wings, this distinguishes it from the nominate species Ardea cinerea found in Europe. The image of the nominate species Ardea cinerea shown on a rocky shore Seychelles.

Green-backed herons have a global range mainly through the tropical regions and further north and south in America and Africa. There are three subspecies groups: Green herons (Butorides striata virescens), striated heron (Butorides striata striata) and the Galapagos lava heron. The gallery features striated heron nominate species, two subspecies and two rufous morphs photographed in Trinidad (nominate and rufous morph), Singapore (ssp javanica), Mauritius (ssp javanica rufous morph) and Seychelles (ssp degens).

The young adult black-crowned night-herons still a has a few juvenile feathers its bill is deformed. Most photos in the gallery are species that I photographed in the topics.

Green-backed Herons

Notes on Green-backed Heron Genera

The green-backed heron is a collective term for Butorides striata and comprises subspecies B. s. virescens (Green Heron) and the nominate B. s. striata (Striated Heron). There are around thirty-three subspecies of B striata. Some authorities elevate B. s. sundevalli (Lava Heron, a Galapagos subspecies endemic) to full species status B. sundevalli (making it a Galapagos species endemic).

The green heron distribution is north of Panama and the Caribbean in America. The striated heron taxa distribution is south of Panama and conspecific with Old World taxa, while the Lava Heron distribution is the Galapagos Islands.

There is a hybrid zone between the green-heron and striated heron in Panama. Some authorities report a more substantial area that includes southern Central America, south Caribbean islands, and the north coastal South America, although this is controversial.

The gallery includes images of four sub-species of striated heron: the nominate species in Trinidad; ssp degens in Seychelles, ssp javanica in Singapore; and two ssp sundevalli light-grey and dark morphs in the Galapagos. Two other morph images include a rufous nominate species in Trinidad and a rufous ssp javanica in Mauritius.

I have captioned the Galapagos immature and juvenile images by the collective name green-backed heron (B. s.). I’m not sure if they are lava or striated herons. The juvenile has a black cap with yellow-orange lores, probably making it a striated heron.  The immature is much darker also with yellow-lore possibly making it a lava heron, but I haven’t ruled out a striated heron. By contrast, both images of the adult lava herons show individuals that lack yellow-lores. Both my field guides show images of lava herons that do not have yellow-lores and striated herons with yellow-lores. The variation in this species is complex and not well understood with polymorphism and hybridisation, contributing to the confusion.

Photo Essay of Purple Heron Behaviour

Purple Heron Behaviour Notes

A photo essay of grey herons photographed in Singapore and features: (a) A sequence of five images at Japanese Garden main lake showing a bird having stabbed a huge fish attempting to swallow it. It took several minutes and needed some water lubrication to help it slide down; (b) Three images at the tea garden lake of a bird stabbing, manipulating and then perched ready to devour its prey; (c) And a couple of individuals flying; one at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the other landing at the Japanese Garden main lake.

Photo Essay of Grey Heron Behaviour

Grey Heron Behaviour Notes

A photo essay of grey herons photographed in Singapore and features:

(a) A sequence of five images at Japanese Garden main lake showing a bird having stabbed a huge fish attempting to swallow it. It took several minutes and needed some water lubrication to help it slide down;

(b) Three images at the tea garden lake of a bird stabbing, manipulating and then perched ready to devour its prey;

(c) And a couple of individuals flying; one at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the other landing at the Japanese Garden main lake.

Photo Essay of Striated Heron Behaviour

Striated Heron Behaviour Notes

Striated herons often seen perched near water looking for prey. In Singapore’s Japanese Garden main lake, I observed one individual hunting from lily pads. The bird would stand close to a lily pad edge watching and when a fish came in range would strike either stabbing or catching the fish in its bill. If the fish were small, it would devour it and then go on fishing; otherwise, it would head to the bank to eat it there. Kids and some adults feed the fish with bread. I watched one enterprising bird fly down to the food and bring it back to the bank, then drop it within striking range. It seemed to be a successful technique as it was catching large fish. Common myna birds would take advantage by trying to steal the food.

A final couple of images show ssp degens successfully hunting on the exposed coral rocks at Anse Bazarca in Seychelles. The bird was taking advantage of small fish brought in on an incoming tide but had to avoid the breakers often flying to avoid getting wet.

Two subspecies feature in the gallery, Butorides striata javanica in Singapore and B.S. degens in Seychelles.

Heron Behaviour

Heron Behaviour Notes

The first image in the final gallery shows a rufous night-heron from the Nycticorax genus photographed in golden light as the sun was setting at Yellow Water in Kakadu National Park. Other images feature an adult and an immature bird; plumed egret, from the Ardea genus, shown breeding and non-breeding plumage. The final few photos show an eastern great-egret preening and flying and a great-billed heron swallowing a fish, albeit from a distance.

Heron Taxonomy

The core waterbirds webpage describes the higher-level taxonomy for the heron families, which are part of the Ardeidae family placed in the order Ardeiformes. Featured subfamilies include Ardeinae (Egrets and Herons) and Nycticoracinae (Night-Herons).