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Species Guide
A photo of a Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala)
Black-headed Heron

Black-headed Heron

Ardea melanocephala

The black-headed heron, Ardea melanocephala, is a stately wading bird from the heron family Ardeidae. It stands at an impressive 85 cm in height, with a wingspan stretching to 150 cm. Its plumage is predominantly grey, with a darker shade above and a paler grey below. The bird is named for its striking black head, which contrasts with its grey body. A powerful dusky bill completes its commanding appearance.

Identification Tips

When identifying the black-headed heron, look for its large size, nearly matching that of the grey heron. Its black head and neck, along with the grey body, are key distinguishing features. In flight, observe the slow wingbeats and the retracted neck, a common trait among herons. The white underwing coverts are particularly noticeable when the bird is airborne.


This heron is commonly found in a variety of wetland habitats throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. It is comfortable in both shallow water and dry grasslands.


The black-headed heron is widespread across much of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. It is mainly a resident species, though some individuals from West Africa may migrate northward during the rainy season.


The black-headed heron exhibits typical heron behavior, often seen feeding in shallow waters or stalking prey in grasslands. It is known to stand motionless, waiting for prey, or to slowly stalk its victim with stealth and precision.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the black-headed heron include a distinctive loud croaking, often heard during dusk at heronries.


Breeding typically occurs in the wet season. The black-headed heron nests in colonies, which can be found in trees, reedbeds, or even on cliffs. It constructs a bulky stick nest and lays a clutch of 2 to 4 eggs.

Similar Species

The grey heron is the species most similar in appearance to the black-headed heron, but it can be differentiated by its size and coloration, particularly the grey heron's lack of a black head.

Diet and Feeding

A versatile predator, the black-headed heron feeds on a diet that includes fish, frogs, large insects, small mammals, and birds. It employs both passive and active hunting strategies, either spearing its prey with its sharp bill or stalking it on land.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the black-headed heron as Least Concern, indicating that the species does not currently face a significant threat of extinction.

Black-headed Heron Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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Black-headed Herons on Birda


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