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Sources :

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

ROBERTS BIRDS OF SOUTH AFRICA by G. R. Mc Lachlan and R. Liversidge – The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund – ISBN: 0620031182

BIRDS OF THE GAMBIA AND SENEGAL by Clive Barlow and Tim Wacher – Helm Field guides – ISBN: 0713675497


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Page Family Ardeidae

Summary cards       


Squacco Heron
Ardeola ralloides

Pelecaniformes Order – Ardeidae Family

Length: 42-47 cm
Wingspan: 80-92 cm
Weight: 230-370 g

This rather solitary species usually feeds alone and rarely occurs in flocks. However, the Squacco Heron is a colonial breeder with sometimes very large colonies. They also gather in large numbers at nightime roosts.

The adult is small and stocky. In non-breeding plumage, it is dull brown with dark and light streaks. At rest, it has buff and brown upperparts and white underparts. When in flight, the white wings and tail are conspicuous. Head, nape and shoulders are streaked black.
The bill is dark with yellow lower mandible. The eyes are yellow with greenish-yellow lores and narrow red eyering. Legs and feet are greenish-yellow.

In breeding plumage, feathers are very long. The body is white with cinnamon back, nape and breast sides.
The underparts are slightly washed cinnamon, especially on chest. We can see some black streaks on breast sides. Wings and tail are white.
On the head, chin and throat are white, whereas crown, head sides and neck are cinnamon. During the breeding period, the adults develop an erectile black and white crest with long and bushy feathers.
The bill is bright cobalt-blue with black tip. Lores are bright greenish-blue. Eyes are yellow. Legs and feet are brighter orange-yellow to reddish with black claws.

The female is similar, but in breeding plumage, she has less conspicuous crest than male.
The juvenile has paler buff ground colour and is browner on head and back with dark streaks on throat and breast. Upperwing-coverts and primary tips are spotted brownish. The crest is shorter than in adults in non-breeding plumage. Bill, legs and feet are greenish-yellow.

The Squacco Heron gives soft, vibrant, grating “kok”, low-pitched “kruuk” and rattling “kek-kek-kek”.
In flight or when flushed, it gives an abrupt squawking “kahk”.

The Squacco Heron frequents a wide variety of wetlands, preferring freshwater habitats such as swampy and flooded areas, river valleys, deltas, lakes and ponds, ditches, ricefields, where there is dense cover of marshy vegetation.
It is usually seen in lowlands, but it may sometimes breed near lakes in mountainous areas, up to 2000 metres of elevation.
It is rare in estuaries, coastal habitats and islets. However, according to the range, this species can be seen along coasts, especially throughout Senegal.

The Squacco Heron occurs in SW and C Europe, E to Aral Sea region and SE Iran. It is also present in Africa, N and S of Sahara, and Madagascar.  

The Squacco Heron usually takes small preys of about 10 cm long, such as insect larvae. Large insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, butterflies and spiders are taken too. Aquatic preys include some fish, amphibians, crustaceans and molluscs. It may exceptionally catch small birds. Like other Ardeidae species such as the Green-backed Heron (Butorides striatus), it sometimes uses an insect as bait. 

The Squacco Heron often feeds alone by day, but mainly at dusk. As numerous Ardeidae species, it remains quiet in the vegetation, waiting for preys. It may crouch horizontally while feeding.
When food sources are abundant, they feed in small flocks but the birds are well spaced out. They stand motionless at water edge, or hidden in the tall vegetation. Usually, only head and neck are visible.

But during the breeding season, this solitary heron breeds in small or large colonies.
In order to perform courtship displays, both adults get brighter colours on bare parts and longer crest and back feathers. During displays, the long nuptial feathers play important roles. Usually, these ritual displays take place at nest or close to it.

Colonies are established in trees or reedbeds, often with other Ardeidae species. The aerial displays occur around the nest-site. When the pair is formed for one season, they build the nest and defend the nest-site. They are monogamous.

The Squacco Herons usually gather at communal roosts at night outside the breeding season. They roost often in mixed-species groups in reedbeds or sheltered wooded areas.

Palearctic populations are migratory and dispersive, whereas African ones appear mostly sedentary, only performing local movements.

The Squacco Heron flies typically low over the emergent vegetation before to disappear into the cover. The all-white wings are revealed when it takes off.
It performs faster wingbeats and less frequent glides tan egrets.

The breeding season varies according to the range, but occurs between April and June in Eurasia and N Africa, and mainly during rains in Africa, S of Sahara, and between October and March in Madagascar.
The Squacco Heron breeds in small or large colonies with other heron’s species. They nest in reedbeds or dense thickets of willows, or trees, near or over water. The nest is often placed fairly low, less than two metres, but occasionally up to 20 metres high in tree. Usually, nests are 5-10 metres apart. This is a platform made with sticks and twigs.

The Squacco Heron feeds on small preys such as insect larvae, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, crustaceans, molluscs, fish and amphibians, and they may take very occasionally small birds.
It feeds like other Ardeidae species, standing motionless and partially hidden in the marshy vegetation.

The Squacco Heron has large range and the species is not currently threatened.
However, changes in the habitat with loss of wetlands involve some declines in Europe. In addition, the species is hunted for traditional medicine in Nigeria.

The female lays 2-3 eggs in Africa, but 4-7 in Europe. Incubation by both parents lasts 22-24 days in Europe. Chicks are covered with grey, buff and white down. They are fed by both adults. Two weeks later, they leave the nest and perch on branches in the close vicinity. They fledge about 45 days after hatching, during which they still depend on parents.