Purple Heron

Ardea purpurea

78-90cm

Appearance

This is a sleek wetland bird, smaller than the Grey Heron with darker plumage. Its neck is slender and long, and its bill is narrow and dagger-like. The legs are very long with particularly long toes, the plumage is predominately grey-purple, although the head and neck are ginger, and the crown and nape have a strip of black. It has long plumes from its head and others that hang from its chestnut breast. When flying, the upperwings are purplish brown and the underwing has a maroon edge and is otherwise grey. Juvenile birds are a mixture of brown shades, mottled on the upperwings.

Habitat

Wetlands, marshes and large reedbeds are all typical habitats for this bird, which is a seldom visitor to Britain and Ireland. Migrant birds may also spend time at river banks, estuaries and occasionally the coast.

Character

The Purple Heron is predominately a solitary bird; dusk and dawn are its most active periods. It stands in water of varying depths, moving slowly along with its neck poised (sometimes coiled, sometimes extended over the water), ready to feed when the opportunity presents itself. When flying, its neck is curved, its wings are shorter than the Grey Heron's, and its large feet dangle past the tail.

Food

Has a varied diet including fish (carp, perch, sticklebacks and eels), insects and their larvae, amphibians, and it will kill and eat small mammals such as shrews and water voles.

Breeding

Reedbeds or trees provide optimal conditions for breeding colonies.

Population

In 2010 the first recorded breeding event occurred in Britain when a pair raised 2 young; less than 20 birds are usually seen each year. Most of the European population spends winter in central and southern Africa after crossing the Sahara.

Observation Tips

The propensity to be in water, particularly in the cover of reeds, makes observation a challenge. There's also a danger of mistaken identification since this bird has many similarities to the Grey Heron; one signifier is if the bird is flying, the toes of the Purple Heron are usually angled upwards, while the Grey Heron's are flat. April and May are the best months to seek this bird.

Voice

Mostly a silent bird, but it does have a grating croak.
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