and Egrets are supreme hunters, with long strong beaks on the end
of a long neck which uncoils to deliver a quick, powerful lunge.
Their long legs give them added height advantage and a long stride.
In addition, these wily hunters have a wide repertoire of hunting
Some lie in wait for unsuspecting prey to come within reach. They
wait on vegetation over water, others stand on their long legs in
shallow water. Others are more proactive and may stir up the muddy
bottom to scare up some prey which they then pick off.
and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
features: Medium to large; neck and legs long (shorter
in bitterns), bill long pointed stout; fly with necks
pulled back onto the shoulders, legs stretched out beyond
their short tails, broad wings flapping slowly. Genders
Similar birds: Cranes: fly
with their necks extended.
Classification: Family Ardeidae.
World 61-65 species, Singapore 17 species. Order Ciconiiformes,
which includes cranes, ibis, storks.
The family Ardeidae may be divided into 4 major branches
or subfamilies (Payne & Risley, 1976):
The night-herons (subfamily
The day or typical herons and egrets
The tiger-herons (subfamily
Tigrisomatinae, found only in tropical Americas); and
The bitterns (subfamily Botaurinae).
Smallest: Little bittern
(Ixobrychus minutus): 27-36cm, 46-86g.
Largest: Goliath Heron (Ardea
Black Heron of Africa and Madagascar has a unique method of hunting
called canopy feeding. They stand in shallow waters and spread their
wings to form an umbrella over their heads. Small fish and other prey
are often lured to take shelter in the shadow and come within reach
of the birds.
In Japan, Little Herons (Butorides
striatus) living in a public park flick bits of bread left by
humans onto the water to lure fish to the surface. They do the same
trick with a bit of feather. Other herons elsewhere, so likewise.
Egret (Egretta garzetta), has black legs but bright yellow feet
which it uses to good advantage. It stands on one leg and shakes its bright
yellow foot above the water surface to attract prey.
and Egrets hunt in shallow waters which gives them the advantage over their
heron specialities: All members of the family Ardeidae have specialised
feathers called powder down. These are never moulted but fray from the tip
and grow continuously from the base. While pigeons have similar feathers
all over their bodies, in herons, these are concentrated in patches. The
fine powder that is generated as these feathers fray is used by the bird
to remove slime and oil from their feathers.
Another heron feature is their 4 long toes, 3 pointing toes forwards, and
one backwards. The claw on the middle of the forward toes has a rough, comb-like
inner margin that the heron uses to preen its soft feathers.
Many herons have spectacular courtship displays. Some develop delicate
lacy breeding feathers on the head, back or breast, which are used
during the courtship displays. During breeding season, they also develop
brighter colours on their legs, bill, eyes and lores (the patch of
bare skin between the bill and their eyes). The brighter colours remain
for a while after the pair-bond is established and eggs are laid.
Most herons form monogamous
pairs and both parents look after the young. Most typical herons nest in
colonies (called heronries), while bitterns and night herons are secretive
and nest alone.
Status and threats: The word egret
comes from the word aigrette which refers to the lacy breeding plumes
of 6 species of white heron. These plumes were in high demand to decorate
women's hats during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The
demand was so huge that the feathers from four birds would be worth twice
the same weight of gold. In the 1900s, the plumes sold at more than $1,000/kg.
Because the plumes were at their best at the peak of breeding season, the
birds were shot as they were raising their young, leaving the helpless young
to die. The slaughter of these birds eventually led to a public outcry which
resulted in the ban on the use of these feathers in hats. Eventually, official
protection prevented their extinction. The word egret has since been
used to name other all-white herons, even those which don't have these fancy
@Monterey Bay by Don Roberson: key features of the main bird families
of the world with facts and lots of wonderful photos.
Zoo's page on Herons: short fact sheet.
- 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)
- 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, number of species)
- 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)
- Dr. Harold G Cogger
(et. al), "Encyclopedia of Animals"; Herons and their
Allies by K W Lowe, 1993 (p. 287-290: about herons, egrets, bitterns:
hunting style and bill shape and other general facts)
- David Attenborough,
"The Life of Birds", Princeton University Press, 1998
(p. 53: powder feathers, p. 123: hunting methods).