Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Ardea cinerea Linnaeus, 1758

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum/Division:Chordata
Class:Aves
Order:Pelecaniformes
Family:Ardeidae
Genus:Ardea
Species:A. cinerea
Common Names:Grey Heron, Pucung Seriap
Status:Common resident. Vulnerable

Description

The Grey Heron has a grey upperpart. Its head is white, with a broad black band from behind eye to nape. The feathers on the hind crown and nape lengthen to form a crest. The underpart is white, with a black line on its neck running to above its eye. In flight, the grey upper wing coverts contrast with the black flight feathers.

Immatures are darker and browner, lacking the long ornamental feathers of the crest, neck and back of the adults.

Size 90-98 cm.

Soft parts: Iris is bright lemon-yellow, the skin around the eye is greenish yellow. Upper mandible is dark horn at base, paler at tip. The lower mandible is yellowish. The tarsus is pale yellowish, feet and claws dark horn. During breeding, the iris, bill and legs become deep orange-red.

Read more about the Pelecaniformes order.
Read more about the Ardeidae family.

Distribution

The Indian subcontinent, Yunnan, China, Korea, east Siberia, Japan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Sumatra, Java and Borneo, Philippines. Other races in most part of Palaearctic, Africa and Madagascar.

General Biology

The Grey Heron is usually solitary when foraging, standing motionless in shallow water, stabbing at its prey with its long, sharp, dagger-like bill. It sometimes stands on one leg while waiting for its prey or wades slowly in water or on exposed tidal mud.

It flies with deep, steadily beaten wing beats, with head drawn back into the body. It has been known to out maneuver a juvenile White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) that tried to attack it. An instance where it tried to raid a colony of Black-naped Terns (Sterna sumatrana) failed when the terns mobbed it and rained vomits on the attacking heron (Deng et al., 2008).

The normal call in flight is a loud, harsh 'fraank'. When disturbed, it often gives a deep, grating 'raark'. In heronies, the birds make all sorts of grunts and groans, with extensive bill snapping.

Herons nest gregariously in colonies known as heronies. Grey Herons were first recorded to breed in Singapore in 1983. The bulky nest is made of numerous twigs brought back by males for females to build into the structure and is placed high on the crowns of mangrove trees, including dead ones. The nest is lined with fresh, leafy branches of mangroves. The eggs are pale blue, the shell being very thick and chalky in texture, the average size is 5.8 x 4.0 cm (Robinson & Chasen, 1936). Clutch size is 3–5. Incubation is done by both sexes and takes about 26 days. Fledging period is about 7 weeks. Nest building observed in March, August, November. Brooding observed in January, February, March, July, November. Chicks recorded in February, April. Immatures are recorded in July and August.

Diet

Eats fish (including eels and catfish), fiddler crabs, snakes, frogs, and even small mammals. It swallows fish head-first, sometime maneuvering the prey, if large, for minutes before successfully doing so. Smaller fishes are easily manipulated up along the bill for swallowing. It has been knows for this heron to wash the fish before swallowing, and afterwards take a drink of water. Fights can occur when other herons try to muscle in to steal the prey. Grey Heron has been known to indulge in night fishing.

Life Cycle

Courtship starts when the male arrives at the nesting site and bonds with a female, with neck stretching and bills pointing skyward, mutual preening, bill capping and loud squaking. Nests are then built with the male bringing the materials and the female arranging them. Mating is swift, with the large birds using their wings to balance themselves when the male mounts the female. A clutch of 4-5 eggs are laid, with incubation taking 25-26 days. The chicks fledge in 50 days and remain in the nest for another 10-20 days (Martinez-Vilalta & Motis, 1992). Feeding of the chicks generally happens inside the nest.

A colony was located in a Casuarina tree (Casuaring equisetifolia) in the north of Singapore in November 2008 but one day all the birds were gone. These birds are have been known to be highly sensitive to human disturbances. In November 2009, another colony was located at Pasir Ris that saw to the birds successfully raising their chicks. House Crow (Corvus splendens) and Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) can be potential predators, taking the eggs or chicks. Squabbling are common between the nesting herons in the colony, considering that so many birds congregate in a single tree.

Records

Formerly found only in small numbers until a small colony was established at Kranji marshes in 1983. A survey in March 1989 counted 107 birds, and represented a significant real increase in Singapore; irregular before the late 1970s (Wells, 1999).

An island-wide survey in May 2003 and September 2003 yielded 117 birds and 331 birds respectively (Wang, 2003; 2004). The largest heronry of about 200 nests remains in a relatively undisturbed area in Seletar Camp but the adults were being culled regularly in the nearby airbase due to risks of air strikes. A small and constant colony is established in a country club in Tenah Merah Country Club but its future is at risk due to expanding road development. Another small heronry at Sungei Tampines consists of at least 30 nests. This colony risks constantly pressure from photographers and kayakers.

Formal records of Ardea sumatrana collected from Singapore:

Raffles Museum Collection: 1 (1 FF)
University of Washington Burke Museum: 4 (1 FF, 3MM)

References

Deng, S. H., T. K. Lee & Y. C. Wee 2008. Black-naped terns (Sterna sumatrana Raffles, 1822) mobbing a grey heron (Ardea cinerea Linnaeus, 1758). Nature in Singapore 1: 117-127.

Martinez-Vilalta, A. & A. Motis 1992. Family Ardeidae (Herons)]. In del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 1.

Robinson, H. C. & F. N. Chasen. 1936. The birds of the Malay Peninsula. Vol. III: Sporting birds; birds of the shore and estuaries. H. F. & G. Witherby. London. 264 pp.

Wang, L. K. 2003. Where have the herons gone? Singapore Avifauna, 17(2): 32-34.

Wang, L. K. 2004. Where have the herons gone? Singapore Avifauna, 17(4): 24-26.

Wang, L. K. 2011. Herons. Pp. 341–342. In: Ng, P. K. L., R. T. Corlett & H. T. W. Tan (editors). Singapore Biodiversity. An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. Editions Didier Millet, Singapore. 552 pp.

Wang, L.K. & Hails, C.J. 2007. An annotated checklist of birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 15: 1–179, Singapore.

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