The Black-headed Heron, also known as the Ardea melanocephala, is a wading bird categorized under the Ardeidae family. This family consists of long-legged coastal birds. The closest relatives of the Black-headed Heron are the Zigzag Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Great Egret, and Lava Heron.
The Black-headed Heron was first described in 1826 by Irish zoologist Nicholas Aylward Vigors and British zoologist John George Children
This bird species is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Black-headed Herons do not occur in northern parts of the African continent.
Agricultural developments such as woodland clearings and the establishment of cultivated lands and pastures have provided additional breeding and feeding habitat for Black-headed Herons in sub-Saharan Africa. Since their population is in constant rise, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed this bird species as Least Concern.
Its seven levels of scientific classification are as follows:
Species: A. melanocephala
The physical characteristics of a Black-headed Heron
The Black-headed Heron is a large bird that possesses a long, sharp black bill. An adult Black-headed Heron can grow up to 85 cm tall. It has a 150 cm wingspan, and it can weigh from 710 to 1650 g.
This bird resembles one of its closest relatives, the Grey Heron, although the Black-headed Heron has darker plumage. Its body is almost grey, including wings, tail, and the upper parts. Its underwings have black flight feathers and white wing-coverts. Its throat and chin are white, while its foreneck has black spots all over.
The Black-headed Heron’s eyes are yellow, although they change to orange and red during the breeding season. Its long legs and feet are black in color. Male and female Black-headed Herons share the same characteristics.
Meanwhile, a juvenile typically has buffy-white plumage that goes grey as it grows. Its breast and throat are pale rufous, while its head and neck are dark or brown-grey.
The distribution and habitat of Black-headed Herons
This bird species is indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, among others.
Black-headed Herons prefer habitats that are moist, open, and near water bodies. This bird species frequent open habitats such as grasslands savannahs, damp pastures, partially flooded marshes, river and lakesides, estuaries, cultivated lands, forest clearings, and coastal flats. Reedbeds and tall trees are vital for roosting and breeding.
The behavior of Black-headed Herons
Black-headed Herons communicate through croaks, bill-clapping, and cackles. They are solitary birds that prefer foraging alone through the grass. It hunts for prey while lifting its feet high, erecting its head, and stretching its neck backward. Once it sees the prey, it tilts its head quickly before striking it with its bill. The hunting usually happens during night time.
During the breeding season, the Black-headed Herons become loud, noisy, and territorial. Breeding usually occurs year-round, but peaks during the rainy season. A Black-headed Heron will often cry out a loud “kaak” sound and will perform a forward display towards an intruder.
Like other birds, Black-headed Herons engage in courtship displays. During a stretch display, a bird will point its bill upwards, exposing its chin and throat. It cries a soft gurgle that sounds like “how-oo.” Sometimes, it will fluff its neck and raise its crest. The attracted Black-headed Heron will then move closer to the other bird to brush its bill against the other’s bill.
They are monogamous breeders that commonly breed in colonies with other bird species. Both mates build their nests in a tall tree, reedbed, or on the ground with other nests. The pair will collect twigs and green leaves and build the nest for two weeks.
Afterward, the female Black-headed Heron will lay 2-3 pale blue eggs. Both male and female birds will take responsibility for incubating the eggs for 23-27 days. After the hatching period, the chicks will remain at the nest, where they will be fed through regurgitation. The chicks will fledge at 40-50 days of age. The chicks will live independently two months after hatching.
The diet of Black-headed Herons
Black-headed Herons feed on a variety of organisms. It eats invertebrates and small vertebrates that live on land and water, particularly rodents, centipedes, scorpion, earthworms, frogs, snakes, crustaceans, fish, and spiders.
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