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Grey Heron
Ardea cinera

Pucong Seriap (Malay)

a tall grey heronThe Grey Heron is the largest bird in Singapore, standing at 1m tall with a wingspan of 2m.

Grey Herons eat whatever they can catch: fish, amphibians, arthropods (insects, spiders), crustacea (crabs), and even small mammals (rodents), reptiles (hatchling turtles), small birds (catching these on the wing). They are not above scavenging, and stealing prey caught by other birds (e.g., the Purple Heron).

Grey Herons have long necks and powerful bills for a long and strong reach. They usually wait on the mud or at the water's edge to snatch passing aquatic prey. They can stand motionless for hours. Or they may wade slowly through shallow water or on mud freshly exposed by the tide. They may also stalk fish. They may even dive into deeper water. In Europe, some even follow farm ploughs to catch whatever is unearthed or flushed out in the process.

Although Grey Herons roost and nest in groups, they hunt alone. But when prey is plentiful, they may
feed in groups, evenly spaced out. They are most active at dawn and dusk.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Tall (90cm-1m, 1.5kgs). Grey plumage with long black head plume (crest); neck white with black stripes on the front; flight feathers black.

Non-breeding: bill yellow; legs yellowish-brown.

Breeding: bill more orange, legs more rose-pink

Genders look alike, females have shorter head plumes.

Juvenile: Mostly grey, no black markings or crest; legs dull and dark.
grey heron in non-breeding plumage
grey heron in breeding plumage
Call: A very loud harsh croak (kra-ak); deep, guttural honks while in flight or at nest.

In flight: Distinct contrast between black flight feathers and grey wing coverts and back. Fly with their necks tucked in, so they look shorter. Wingbeat ponderous and slow.

Status in Singapore: Common resident throughout the island, and North offshore islands (Pulau Tekong and Ubin).

World distribution: Throughout the Old World. Not found in Australia. Resident in South China, Vietnam, Myanmar, peninsular Malaysia.

Classification: Family Ardeidae. World 65 species, Singapore 17 species.

grey heron swallowing a fishSmall prey is tossed back into the bill alive. Larger ones are shaken or stabbed to death then manipulated to be eaten head first. Those too large to swallow whole are discarded.

In the Thai-Malay peninsula, mangroves are the Grey Herons' preferred place for hunting, roosting and breeding. Mangroves have the shallow waters and mudflats that their hunting style is best suited to, and the tall trees they like to roost and nest in. They are also found on the coast and occasionally in freshwater wetlands and grasslands further inland.

Breeding: Grey Herons breed from the low arctic to the tropics. In the Thai-Malay peninsula, Grey Herons appear to breed year-round. Courting rituals include a courting call, clappering of bills and displays of erected plumes with neck stretching and wing flapping.
grey heron collecting nesting material
grey heron collecting nesting materialGrey Herons generally nest in colonies. Preferred nest sites are tall emergent trees, even dead ones. Their nests are large (40-45 cm wide) platforms solidly built out of sticks and lined with grass or fresh leafy branches. The males find and bring nesting materials to the females: the giving and receiving of sticks is done with lots of ritual. It is the female who does most of the actual construction.

3-6, usually 4, large greenish blue eggs are laid. Incubation takes 24-27 days. The young fledge in 7 weeks-3 months. Both parents feed and look after the young, who tug at their parents' bills to get them to regurgitate food for them. There is intense sibling rivalry and one may kill another, and even eat it.

Migrants: Some Grey Herons that breed in the north migrate to the tropics, sometimes going beyond the range of resident, breeding tropical Grey Herons.

Status and threats: Grey Herons in Singapore are vulnerable to the loss of breeding grounds as mangroves and other suitable habitats are cleared. It is estimated that there are only 10 breeding colonies in the Thai-Malay peninsula, and the heronry at Sungei Buloh is one of these. In Singapore, there are about 250 individuals (as at 1997). They are found mainly on the northern coast of the island and appear most active in the Kranji area which includes Sungei Buloh Nature Park. For more details and photos on the colony at Sungei Buloh, check out Heronry: Home of the Herons. Elsewhere in the world, Grey Herons are hunted as food and as a pest on fish farms and competitors for game fish. They are also affected by pollution, pesticides and habitat destruction.

  To buy these references & others, visit
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  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 47: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 72-74: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 83: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram showing the differences with similarly shaped herons, number of species).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 108: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 15: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 43: habit, habitat).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 51: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds)
  • James Gan, "The Nesting Herons of Sungei Buloh", Wetlands Vol 4 No 1, Apr 97, Sungei Buloh Nature Park publication (p. 4-5; breeding, habitat, habits, photo).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 5, 19: distribution and status in Singapore and details on destruction of their nesting sites, fact sheet on major aspects).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 35: description, habits, habitat).
  • Prof. Dr. Yong Hoi Sen (ed.), "The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Animals"; Waterbirds by Siti Hawa bt Yatim, Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p. 58-59: habits, habitats, photos).
  • James Hancock, "Herons and Egrets of the World: A photographic journey", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 28: identification, distribution, status, feeding, breeding, photos of adult and juvenile).
By Ria Tan, 2001