Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala)

Black-headed Heron

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ardeidae | [latin] Ardea melanocephala | [authority] Vigors and Children, 1826 | [UK] Black-headed Heron | [FR] Heron melanocephale | [DE] Schwarzhals-Reiher | [ES] Garza Cabezinegra | [NL] Zwartkopreiger


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Ardea melanocephala AF widespread


Best known of the typical herons are the very large, long-legged and long-necked, plain-hued, crested members of the genus Ardea The species of the Ardeidae (heron) family are mainly tropical birds, but they have spread out all over the world and occupy all but extremely high latitudes and elevation. Most members of this almost worldwide group breed colonially in trees, building large stick nests. Northern species such as Great Blue, Grey and Purple Herons may migrate south in winter, although the first two do so only from areas where the waters freeze. These are powerful birds with large spear-like bills, long necks and long legs, which hunt by waiting motionless or stalking their prey in shallow water before seizing it with a sudden lunge. They have a slow steady flight, with the neck retracted as is characteristic of herons and bitterns; this distinguishes them from storks, cranes, and spoonbills, which extend their necks

Physical charateristics

The Black-headed Heron is a large bird, standing 85 cm tall, and it has a 150-cm wingspan. It is nearly as large as the Grey Heron, which it resembles in appearance, although it is generally darker. Its plumage is largely grey above, and paler grey below. It has a powerful dusky bill.

The flight is slow, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes and spoonbills, which extend their necks. The white underwing coverts are striking in flight.

Listen to the sound of Black-headed Heron

[audio: Heron.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 41 cm size max.: 46 cm
incubation min.: 23 days incubation max.: 27 days
fledging min.: 40 days fledging max.: 27 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Africa : widespread


The species inhabits marshes with reed and papyrus beds, the margins of rivers and lakes, estuaries, coastal creeks and flats, temporary pools and natural savannas or artificial grasslands including damp open pastures, moist grassland and cultivated land.


The nest is a platform of sticks usually positioned high in trees1 (e.g. eucalyptus, baobab, acacia, fig or palm) or in reedbeds, papyrus beds, floating islands of papyrus or on sandstone ledges. The species nests in colonies with up to 35 pairs nesting in one tree. This species usually breeds in the wet season in colonies in trees, reedbeds or cliffs. It builds a bulky stick nest and lays 2-4 eggs. Incubation lasts about 25 days and the young fledge after 4-55 dyas, becoming independent at 60 days.

Feeding habits

Its diet consists of terrestrial and aquatic insects (especially Orthoptera), earthworms, crabs, Arachnids (e.g. scorpions and spiders), small mammals (e.g. rats, water voles, musk-shrews and mice), lizards, snakes, frogs, birds and fish. Insects are the most important prey item for the species during the rains, although these become less important as grasslands dry out.

Video Black-headed Heron


copyright: Marc de Bont


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Although populations of this species breeding in the equatorial zone of Africa are largely sedentary other populations are partially migratory and move in relation to the timing of the dry seasons. The species nests in small mixed-species colonies of up to 200 pairs with breeding activities peaking during the rains. The species is usually a solitary forager, but may occasionally congregate into loose feeding flocks1, 2 and commonly roosts in groups of tens to hundreds of individuals. Individuals may travel over 30 km daily between preferred feeding grounds and roosting sites.
Black-headed Heron status Least Concern


It is mainly resident but some west African birds move further north in the rainy season.

Distribution map

Black-headed Heron distribution range map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *