Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)

Purple Heron

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ardeidae | [latin] Ardea purpurea | [authority] Linnaeus, 1766 | [UK] Purple Heron | [FR] Heron pourpre | [DE] Purpurreiher | [ES] Garza Imperial | [NL] Purperreiger


Monotypic species


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

its body is dark and elongated. Its head and neck are narrow and elongated. Its beak can be used as a harpoon to catch prey. The long paws allow the purple heron to reach the deepest water. The long and well-spaced fingers allow the purple heron to walk easily on marshy grounds and on water vegetation. Its typical stretching neck completes its beak, increasing the efficiency and the speed of the attack to prey. It can live up to 23 years.

Listen to the sound of Purple Heron

[audio:http://www.planetofbirds.com/MASTER/CICONIIFORMES/Ardeidae/sounds/Purple Heron.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 110 cm wingspan max.: 145 cm
size min.: 79 cm size max.: 90 cm
incubation min.: 25 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 45 days fledging max.: 30 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 7  


Eurasia, Oriental Region, Africa : widespread


Purple Herons feed mainly on fish, but will also eat insects, amphibians, and occasionally shellfish, small mammals, reptiles and even small birds.


The nest is usually build in reedbeds and in between plants typical of wet areas, generally close, at 0.5 -1 meter, from water. The nest also built on trees up to 25 meters from the ground, made of reeds and small branches. The purple herons usually lay 4-5 eggs with an incubation period of 25 to 30 days. The chicks fledge after 45 to 50 days. During courtship the males plumage is more bright, especially on the neck. The pairs bond at least for one season. Both parents take care of the chicks. They nest in small colonies, generally made up of two or three pairs bur also single. In central Europe eggs are laid at the end of April, or at the beginning of May, in the South of Europe three weeks later.

Feeding habits

The Purple Heron feeds on fish, amphibians, insects (both grubs and adults), especially from sunset to sunrise. During wading keeping its beak very near the water and swallow with a rapid neck and head movement the fishes from the head, in order to make them easily pass through the oesophagus. Also feeds on amphibians, beetles, and molluscs; occasionally eating small mammals, snakes and lizards

Video Purple Heron


copyright: Pedro Rubio


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). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to 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.
This heron inhabits permanent swamps of southern Eurasia, Eastern and Southern Africa. European birds winter in Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly in East Africa. In 1995 the population of the European Union amounted to 5200 breeding pairs (EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds), but following a long history of persecution and habitat destruction its distribution is strongly fragmented and reduced to a small number of breeding colonies. In several countries, including the Netherlands, the decline is continuing. Its seems also to be linked to a bad survival rate in the winter quarters
Purple Heron status Least Concern


Marked post-breeding dispersal. W Palearctic birds migratory, wintering in Africa S of Sahara but N of Equator, especially in W Africa, a few in Mediterranean Basin, Middle East and Baluchistan, Pakistan; move S Aug-Oct, returning Mar-May, with some regularly overshooting into N and C Europe. Birds breeding in NE Asia migrate to Korea, S China, Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia. African and tropical Asian breeders sedentary, sometimes with local movements. Migration normally by day in small groups, but flocks of 350-400 birds in Turkey. Accidental to many islands of NE Atlantic, from Canaries to Iceland, also Brazil and Japan.

Distribution map

Purple Heron distribution range map


Title Fish profitability for breeding Purple Herons
Author(s): Campos, F. & Lekuona, J. M.
Abstract: […]. During the breeding season, the Purple Hero..[more]..
Source: Ardeola 47(1), 2000, 105-107

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Title Fluctuation in population size and colony dynamics in the Purple Heron Ardea purpurea in Mediterranean France
Author(s): Deerenberg C. & Hafner H.
Abstract: The breeding population of Purple Heron Ardea purp..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 87 (2): 217-226.

download full text (pdf)

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