[order] Ciconiiformes | [family] Ardeidae | [latin] Ardea melanocephala | [UK] Black-headed Heron | [FR] Héron mélanocéphale | [DE] Schwarzhalsreiher | [ES] Garza Cabecinegra | [IT] Airone testanera | [NL] Zwartkopreiger

Zwartkopreiger determination

copyright: Marc de Bont

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.

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.

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.

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.

This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 20,000,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 100,000-500,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2002). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]

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.

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