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Black Heron
Egretta ardesiaca

Ciconiiforme Order – Ardeidae Family

BIOMETRICS :
Length : 52-55 cm
Wingspan : 90-95 cm
Weight : 300 g

DESCRIPTION:
Black Heron is the darkest of the egrets.
Plumage is black overall, with bluish or slate-grey gloss. Wing feathers including secondaries, axillaries, scapulars and lesser coverts are long and broad.  Primaries are broad.

On the head, the crown shows a shaggy crest made with black, lanceolate feathers on the hind crown and the nape. Eyes are bright yellow. Bill and legs are black. In adults, the feet are bright orange, and this contrast is very conspicuous in flight. The toes turn sometimes to red at the beginning of the breeding season.
Both sexes are similar.
Juveniles are duller and browner. They lack the long feathers.    

VOICE:
Black Heron is usually silent. It may utter deep clucking, similar to the heron’s calls when fishing in group. It gives raucous calls in nest defence.  

HABITAT :
Black Heron lives close to lakes, rivers, marshes and coastal mudflats, and shallow freshwater.  

RANGE:  
Black Heron lives in Africa, south of the Sahara, Cape Verde Islands, Madagascar and Israel.

BEHAVIOUR :
Black Heron is known for its typical fishing method.
It walks slowly or quickly in shallow water, and then it spreads the wings and arches them forwards and often over its head, until the primary tips skim the water. At this moment, the bird resembles a small umbrella gliding over the water, remaining motionless during a couple of seconds while its feet scrape the bottom’s mud in order to flush the preys.   

This method avoids the sun reflection on the water and allows the bird to see fishes and preys better.     
Black Heron fishes along open shores or among the emerged vegetation, in shallow water, but also on floating vegetation in deeper waters.

It feeds alone or in groups. It may tolerate a heron or egret of other species, but it will chase the birds of its own race if it prefers to fish alone. It hunts by jabbing its preys with the bill too, with closed wings.   
Black Heron is sedentary and only performs some local movements.
It is a gregarious bird, often seen in flocks of up to 50 birds, but sometimes solitary too. They roost in colonies in trees or in reedbeds, in mono-specific groups, or in mixed roosts with other aquatic birds and where they arrive little by little in small flocks.  
Black Heron regularly fluffs its plumage and shakes strongly itself, leaving the feathers to replace slowly.   

FLIGHT:
Black Heron is similar to the other herons in flight. It draws back the neck, the bill pointed forwards and legs held backwards.

REPRODUCTION :
Black Heron usually breeds in Ardeidae colonies.
The nest is made with small branches and stems, roots, grass and leafy branches. It is situated at up to 6 metres above the ground or the water, in trees or reedbeds. It is a platform of about 26 to 35 cm in diameter.    

Female lays 2-4 pale blue or greyish-blue eggs. Incubation is not known but may last about 14 to 30 days.
At one week of age, the chicks are covered of dark grey down, with a white downy crest. Their skin is greenish, throat and underparts are yellow, eyes are dark brown, legs are greenish yellow and feet are yellow. 
At two weeks of age, they are darker because the black feathers start to grow, and their legs are blacker too. 

DIET:
Black Heron feeds mainly on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects.

PROTECTION / THREATS / STATUS:  
Black Heron’s populations are not threatened. It is an abundant species in Africa, in spite of the disturbances at nest-sites.

Fr: Aigrette ardoisée
All : Glockenreiher
Esp : Garceta Azabache
Ital: Airone nero
Nd: Zwarte Reiger
Russe: Зонтичная цапля
Sd: Svarthäger

Photographs by Steve Garvie
His website : RAINBIRDER Photo galleries

Text by Nicole Bouglouan

Sources :

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105

THE HANDBOOK OF BIRD IDENTIFICATION FOR EUROPE AND THE WESTERN PALEARCTIC by Mark Beaman, Steve Madge - C.Helm - ISBN: 0713639601

BIRDS OF AFRICA SOUTH OF THE SAHARA by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan - Princeton University Press Princeton and Oxford - ISBN: 0691118159

L’ENCYCLOPEDIE MONDIALE DES OISEAUX - Dr Christopher M. Perrins -  BORDAS - ISBN: 2040185607

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

Wikipedia (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)

BirdLife International (BirdLife International)

 

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