White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis)

White-bellied Heron

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ardeidae | [latin] Ardea insignis | [authority] Hume, 1878 | [UK] White-bellied Heron | [FR] Heron imperial | [DE] Kaiserreiher | [ES] Martinete encapuchado | [NL] Keizerreiger


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Ardea insignis OR e Himalayas


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

Very large, long-necked heron. Mostly dark greyish with contrasting white throat, belly and vent, and white-streaked scapulars, foreneck and upper breast. Both male and female have two lace-like white-plumes on nape. Juvenile is browner-tinged with smaller plumes

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 125 cm size max.: 129 cm
incubation min.: 0 days incubation max.: 0 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 5  


Oriental Region : East Himalayas. Ardea insignis is known from the eastern Himalayan foothills in Bhutan and north-east India to the hills of Bangladesh, north Myanmar and, historically at least, across west and central Myanmar. It may also occur in south-east Tibet, China, but is now extinct in Nepal.


It is primarily recorded from small or large rivers, usually with sand or gravel bars, often within or adjacent to subtropical broadleaved forest, from the lowlands up to at least 1,500 m, and it has also been reported from an inland lake. It is generally solitary but may aggregate into small flocks and family groups during winter and tends to frequent inaccessible and undisturbed areas.


Very little known. The species is known to breed and roost in Chir pine forest; four nests located in Bhutan in 2003-2007 were solitary and located in large Chir pines on ridges or steep slopes at 500-1,500 m, near the confluence of a small forest stream with a larger river. The nest is a stick platform high up a tree, usually 4 eggs are laid.

Feeding habits

Little known, proabably a large fish specialist. Also smaal mammals, reptiles and amphibians might be taken. Forages alone or in small groups.

Video White-bellied Heron


copyright: Bhutan Birds


This heron is classified as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small and rapidly declining population. This decline is projected to increase in the near future as a result of the loss and degradation of lowland forest and wetlands, and through direct exploitation and disturbance.
The main threats are presumed to be widespread loss, degradation and disturbance of forest and wetlands. Wetlands have become degraded as a result of pollution, rapid growth of aquatic vegetation, and the over-exploitation of resources. Increasing disturbance and habitat degradation from settlement, conversion to agriculture, harvesting of wetland resources and, more locally, poaching are thought to present significant threats in key protected areas (e.g. Namdapha National Park) in north-east India, Bhutan and Myanmar. Natural forest fires have destroyed nests in Bhutan. In Bhutan, hydroelectric power developments and road improvements may result in habitat degradation in the future. Rivers act as busy transport routes for the human population, exacerbating disturbance of this species
White-bellied Heron status Critically Endangered


Sedentary with some post-breeding dispersal. Also some Altitudinal movements during winter.

Distribution map

White-bellied Heron distribution range map

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