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Purple Heron
Ardea purpurea

Pucung Serandau (Malay)

adult (from side)The Purple Heron is the most colourful large heron in Sungei Buloh Nature Park, with a distinctive snake-like neck which is usually held in a prominent kink. Its colourful plumage actually provides excellent camouflage among the reeds.

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

Purple Herons are shy and solitary hunters, and appear to hunt mostly at night continuing into the early morning. They don't often wade in deep water and prefer to stand-and-wait in cover, staying motionless for long periods in shallow water or perched on low dense trees and bushes. Their slim bills are large and strong enough to kill even large snakes. Their long necks give them a long and powerful reach.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Tall (90-97cm). Plumage purplish-brown; long black crest; neck snakelike, white or cream with black line down the sides; bill yellow; legs and toes orange-yellow.

Breast plumes pendulous in breeding adults. Genders look alike.

Juvenile: Dull brown plumage; lacks crest, breast plumes and black markings; streaked neck and underparts.
adult (from behind)
Call: Described as a loud resonant croak kranck; a staccato kar-kar-kar at the nest or when taking off.

In flight: Blackish flight feathers, little contrast with dark grey-brown wings and back.

Status in Singapore: Common resident and winter visitor throughout the island, as well as North and South offshore islands.

World distribution: Throughout the Old World in the tropical and warm temperate zones. Not found in Australia.

Classification: Family Ardeidae. World 65 species, Singapore 17 species.
camouflaged among water plantsOne reason for their shyness could be because Grey Herons (Ardea cinera) often steal the Purple Herons' catch when they are hunting close to each other. Purple Herons become even more shy during breeding season, preferring to hunt near cover. Purple Herons defend their feeding territory from each other by aggressively puffing out neck feathers and raising crests.

While Purple Herons prefer to roost in coastal areas (mangroves, marshes, estuaries), they prefer to feed in freshwater wetlands. In Singapore, however, they are mostly associated with mangroves and the coast. Although in world-wide distribution, they are more widespread than the Grey Heron, the Purple Heron is less tolerant of disturbed and artificial habitats.

close-up of colourful face markingsBreeding: Purple Herons are resident and breed from the tropics to mid-temperate countries. In Singapore, they appear to breed year-round with a peak in April-June. During breeding season, their colours brighten up and breast plumes become more pendulous. Courtship displays include fluffing up their neck feathers in elaborate gestures.

the heronry at the parkPurple Herons nest in small colonies, often with other heron species. Some may nest alone. Preferred nest sites are dense reedbeds and thick vegetation where they pull down the reeds to make a platform. In Singapore, they nest at the base of dense Mangrove Ferns (Acrostichum sp.). They also nest in trees on a platform of twigs. The males find and bring nesting materials to the females, who do the actual construction of the nest. 2-5 pale blue-green eggs are laid. Incubation takes about 25 days and the young fledge in about 3 months. Both parents feed and look after the young, who tug at their parents' bills to get them to regurgitate titbits. There is intense sibling rivalry and often the younger chicks starve to death. They breed at about 1 year of age, and may live up to 23 years.

Migration: Those that breed far north migrate to spend the winter in Southeast Asia, including Singapore. Purple Herons fly with their necks folded back onto their shoulders, giving them a pouched or keeled look. In the past, migrants outnumbered breeders in Singapore, some coming as far away as from Russia. But now, breeders appear well established, particularly in Sungei Buloh Nature Park. For more details and photos on the colony at Sungei Buloh, check out Heronry: Home of the Herons.

Status and threats: Purple Herons are not considered as threatened as some other herons in Singapore because they are widespread and able to adapt to a wide range of breeding conditions. However, they are also affected by habitat destruction and water pollution. Populations in the Malay peninsula are hunted and also harassed by people who raid their nests for their eggs.

  • The Roberts VII Project: an effort to update the Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa: tons of details of the African species, plus details on their courtship behaviour.
  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 48: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 74-76: 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).
  • Morten Strange, "Birds of Southeast Asia: A photographic guide to the birds of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia", New Holland, 1998 (p. 15: photo, facts).
  • 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).
  • James Gan, "The Nesting Herons of Sungei Buloh", Wetlands Vol 4 No 1, Apr 97 (p. 4-5; breeding, habitat, habits, 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, distribution, habits, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 70: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 44: habit, habitat).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 5: status).
  • 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).
  • 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, and photos of all life stages).
By Ria Tan, 2001