Grey Heron

Ardea cinerea

The conspicuous and well-known Grey Heron is widespread over most of Eurasia and Africa, being a seasonal migrant over much of that range. The South African population however is resident throughout the year. It is a large heron, standing a metre tall and weighing up to 2kg.

Grey Herons frequent shallow pans, dams, slow flowing rivers, marshlands, lagoons, estuaries and sheltered rock pools in coastal waters, and are seldom seen away from aquatic habitats such as these. They breed communally, often in mixed colonies together with other types of herons, egrets, ibisses and cormorants, in reedbeds, stands of tall trees near water or on cliffs. in South Africa nesting has been recorded throughout the year, with a peak in spring and early summer. Nests are platforms built of sticks and reeds, and often used year after year, being ever expanded until it becomes too bulky to stay intact. Clutches contain three to five eggs, incubated by both parents for around 25 days. Chicks fledge at about two months old. Grey Herons are active by day (especially around dawn and dusk), hunting for fish, frogs, crabs and other aquatic invertebrates, and small mammals and birds. At night they sleep in tall trees or on cliffs, often in groups.

The IUCN evaluates the Grey Heron as “Least Concern” thanks to its wide distribution and large population (estimated at as many as 3.7-million). They occur commonly all over South Africa, although in the drier western parts of the country they are concentrated along the coast and major river courses, and have benefited from the building of artificial waterbodies and planting of exotic trees in especially arid areas.

The Grey Heron closely resembles the larger Great Blue Heron that occurs in North America and the Caribbean.

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