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Goliath Heron
Ardea goliath

Pelecaniformes Order - Ardeidae Family

Length: 135-150 cm; Wingspan: 180-210 cm; Weight: 5 kg

LONGEVITY: up to 22 years

It is the largest heron in the world, standing at 1,50 metre tall. 

Goliath Heron has slate-grey plumage, with chestnut feathers. Head and crest, face, back and sides of the neck are deep chestnut. Chin and throat are white. Foreneck and upper breast are white streaked black. Feathers at base of the neck are long and blue-grey. Thighs, belly and lower breast are dark buff, slightly streaked with black.
Head brings a brushy chestnut crest. Lores and eye ring area are yellowish-green. Long, strong, pointed bill has black upper mandible and horn below. Eyes are yellow. Long legs and feet are black.
Both sexes are similar.
Juveniles resemble adults, but they are duller.

Goliath Heron utters some sounds similar to raucous barks of an old dog. Its calls include croaks, squawks, growls and gurgles. They are mostly silent outside breeding season.

Goliath Heron lives in varied wetlands, lakes, marshes, mangroves and sometimes river deltas. It needs freshwater, but it is also found in coastal islands, in both salt and fresh waters.  
Goliath Heron lives in sub-Saharan Africa, and some small populations are found in southwest and south Asia, Pakistan, Syria and Iraq. It is resident and dispersive.

Goliath Heron walks slowly in deeper water than other herons, or it stands in shallow waters, on floating vegetation, watching in the water at its feet, searching for prey. When a prey appears, it spears it with open bill. This heron may capture large fishes, with weights about 2 to 3 kg, and it carries them to the shore to eat them quietly.

Goliath Heron are passive hunters. They may stand motionlessly about an hour, adopting tall posture for better visual appreciation. Prey struggles violently. Goliath Heron stabs to the fish’s gill region, to stun it. At this time, it may loose its prey, due to harassment by other fish predators. But only African Fish Eagles (Haliaeetus vocifer) are able to take fish away from Goliath Heron. These raptors may be a potential threat for the heron itself.

Goliath Heron is often seen singly or in isolated pairs. It is a nocturnal bird, also seen at dusk, feeding in wetlands. Its movements may appear slow and very ponderous.
Goliath Heron is a very shy bird. It is sedentary.
Courtship displays are unknown, but this species is monogamous. Their long feathers on crest, neck, breast and back develop before breeding period, which starts with the rainy season.

Goliath Heron flies slowly, with legs held, but not horizontally as other herons, but at angle below the body. It flies with slow, laboured and heavy wing beats. They are able to fly very long distances.

Goliath Heron usually nests solitary, but sometimes in mixed colonies with other heron species. It breeds from June to January.
Nest is large, made with sticks. It is located in trees, low bushes, on rocks or islands in mangroves, but also on the ground in reed beds, always very close or above water.
Female lays 2 to 3 pale blue eggs. Incubation lasts about four weeks, shared by both parents. Chicks are tended by both adults, but often, sibling dies under aggressive acts from oldest. Young need about six weeks to fledge, and perform their first flight.

Goliath Heron feeds on fishes, crustaceans, amphibians and snakes.


Goliath Heron reduces competition for food with other heron species, due to its height. It hunts wading into deeper water than other species.
This species has relatively small regional populations. They may be threatened by use of pesticides. 

Fr: Héron goliath
All : Goliathreiher
Esp : Garza Goliat
Ital : Airone Golia
Nd : Goliathreiger
Sd : Goliathäger   

Photographs by Callie de Wet

Text by Nicole Bouglouan


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

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

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

Wikipedia (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)

BirdLife International (BirdLife International)


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