Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)

It is a large heron with a reddish-brown head, streaky neck, and a purplish plumage, where it got its name. It thrives in freshwater marshes brimmed with high reeds and other vegetation, hunting fish, frogs, and insects. Quite timid and rarely seen compared to the much larger, bulkier, and with a subtler plumage, the Gray Heron.

Read further to know more about the Purple Heron.

What is a Purple Heron?

Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) is a wading bird belonging to the Ardeidae family of herons. Its scientific name was derived from the Latin words “ardea” which means “heron,” and “purpureus” that translates to “purple.” Specific populations in the Western Palearctic take seasonal movements, while African and tropical-Asian groups are sedentary, with an exception for dispersive migrations.

Its seven levels of classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Pelecaniformes

Family: Ardeidae

Genus: Ardea

Species: A. purpurea

Purple Heron Physical Description

Purple Herons are large birds, growing from 30.7 to 38.1 inches, with a wingspan of 47.2 to 59.8 inches or 120 to 15 centimeters wingspan. It is a quite slender bird, weighing 500 to 1350 grams.

These birds have a purple-brown plumage, with gray wings accentuated by an azure tinge, rusty breast, reddish-purple scapulars and flanks, and a black belly.

Purple Heron has purple-brown plumage with slate-grey wings, reddish-brown breast, black belly and reddish-purple flanks and scapulars. Its neck is reddish-brown on the near and whitish with black streaks on the rest. A black band also runs down the sides of the neck. Meanwhile, long feather’s crest and crown are black.

Compared to their cousins, the long pointed yellow bill is relatively longer. Eyes are pale yellow while legs and feet are orange-yellow. Thanks to their long toes, they can walk on dense and floating vegetation. During breeding, both sexes develop longer breast feathers.

Juveniles and immature birds are browner than the adults, sans the breast and crest feathers, and sporting paler and thinner streaks in their underparts and neck.

Juvenile is browner than adults, lacking crest and breast feathers, and showing duller and fine steaks in neck and underparts.

Where can they be spotted?

Purple Herons breed in lakes and marshes brimmed with vast reedbeds. Outside their breeding period, they thrive in open wetlands with emergent vegetation. These birds are widespread and can be found in tropical and mid-temperate regions, occurring in Southern Asia, Africa, and Europe, with the latter population spending winter in tropical Africa.

Interesting Facts You Should Know About the Purple Heron

Purple Herons primarily feed on fish, insects, frogs, spiders, rodents, small birds, snakes, and salamanders. It forages in shallow water, staying motionless as it slowly stalks its victims, before spearing them using its long pointed bills. Otherwise, they perch low on bushes or trees, searching for food items.

These birds are timid and solitary hunters, doing most of their foraging at night to early morning. However, they are often ‘bullied’ by the larger Gray Heron that steals their prey when the species share hunting grounds.

Purple Herons fly with their neck retracted, while their long legs and toes are projected behind. Their flight is regular and powerful, characterized by slow wing beats.

During the breeding season, purple herons sports more vivid colors and longer breast feathers. Their courtship antics usually include performing elaborate postures, such as fluffing out the neck feathers and pointing their bill upwards.

These birds nest in small colonies, situated in vast reedbeds in shallow water, though, they may also nest in trees. Large nests are built using twigs and reeds and built hand-in-hand by both sexes. The male purple heron collects the materials while the female constructs the platform. Additional nests may be made close to the original nest, which the parents use for resting as their pair incubate the eggs. Moreover, it is also used by the chicks when they leave the nest or during the fledging period.

A purple heron female will lay a clutch of 2 to 5 eggs, which both parents will incubate for 25 to 30 days. Both sexes tend to and feed the broods by regurgitating food directly into their chicks’ bill. Sibling competition occurs, and the youngest chick often dies. Broods will leave the nest approximately ten days after hatching and will stay hidden in the reedbeds or nearby branches before they fledge after three months.

Purple Herons are one of the species to which the AEWA (Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds) applies. Their population is on a downtrend due to illegal shooting, water pollution, and habitat loss. However, the decline does not reach the thresholds, and they are still evaluated as Least Concern (LC) under the IUCN Red List.



Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Chobe National Park

Linyanti Swamp

Makgadikgadi Pan

Mashatu Game Reserve

Okavango Delta

Moremi Game Reserve



Addo Elephant National Park

Cape Peninsula National Park

Hluhluwe Game Reserves

Knysna Lagoon

Kruger National Park

Madikwe Game Reserve

St Lucia Wetlands


Caprivi Region

Etosha National Park



Lechwe Plains

Lower Zambezi

South Luangwa

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park




Lake Kariba

Mana Pools

Matobo Hills

Victoria Falls


Purple Heron