One of the most interesting birds you could hope to see in action in South Africa’s wild places, is the Black Heron. It’s a smallish species, about 55cm long and less than 350g in weight. Their black plumage and bright orange-yellow feet make them easily recognisable.
Black Herons roost and breed communally in reedbeds or trees, near or over water, with others of their own species, and other kinds of egrets, herons, cormorants and ibises. Nests are platforms built of twigs at the start of the rainy season, on which clutches of 2 to 4 eggs are incubated.
They search for food, alone or in flocks of varying sizes, in rivers, swamps, lakes and estuaries, and feed predominantly on fish.
Black Herons occur widely in Sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the equatorial forests, The IUCN considers the species’ population stable and in no immediate danger of extinction, though they are highly threatened in Madagascar.
A recent visit to Austin Roberts Memorial Bird Sanctuary afforded us the opportunity to enjoy up-close views of the Black Heron’s characteristic hunting method, knows as “canopy feeding“. The bird uses its wings to create an umbrella around its head, and then picks off fish and tadpoles beneath. This behaviour may serve a dual purpose of preventing glare from the water, making it easier to see their prey, and tricking the prey into thinking that the shadow is a safe hiding place. They are also known to wiggle their toes underwater to attract their fishy prey.