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Species Guide
A photo of a Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath)
Goliath Heron

Goliath Heron

Ardea goliath

The Goliath heron, known also as the giant heron, stands as the largest extant heron on Earth. With a statuesque height ranging from 120 to 152 cm and a wingspan stretching between 185 to 230 cm, this bird is a formidable presence in its aquatic realm. Weighing in at 4 to 5 kg, it is a sight to behold, with a slate gray and chestnut plumage that is both striking and elegant.

Identification Tips

The adult Goliath heron is adorned with a chestnut head and crest, a white chin, throat, and upper breast marked with black streaks, and a buff lower breast and belly also with black streaks. Its back and upper wings are slate-grey, accented by a chestnut shoulder patch visible when the wings are folded. The under-wing presents a paler chestnut hue. Its bill is a formidable weapon, the upper mandible jet black, while the lores and orbital areas are a yellow tinged with green. The eyes are a piercing yellow, and the legs and feet are a stark black. In flight, the Goliath heron carries its legs trailing behind, a characteristic that distinguishes it from its heron kin.


The Goliath heron is a creature of the water, favoring lakes, swamps, mangrove wetlands, and sometimes river deltas. It is most at home in shallow waters, though it can be observed near deeper waters with dense vegetation. Its preference for pristine wetlands means it is often found far from human disturbance, from sea level up to elevations of 2,100 meters.


This majestic bird graces the landscapes of sub-Saharan Africa, with smaller, declining populations in Southwest and South Asia.


A solitary and territorial bird, the Goliath heron is a diurnal feeder, often seen standing motionless in the shallows, waiting to spear fish with its powerful bill. It may also use its bill as a lure to attract fish. Despite its size, it is vulnerable to kleptoparasitism, with other birds such as African fish eagles known to steal its catch.

Song & Calls

The Goliath heron's call is a deep and resonant "kowoork," which can be heard up to 2 km away. It also emits a sharper "arrk" when disturbed, and a "huh-huh" during a crouched posture. With its neck extended, a "krooo" may be heard, and duetting at nest sites has been reported but not confirmed.


Breeding season aligns with the onset of the rainy season, with nests built on islands or vegetation islands. The nests are large but flimsy, and the pale blue eggs are incubated for 24 to 30 days. Fledglings leave the nest at around five weeks and are tended to by parents for up to 80 days.

Similar Species

The Goliath heron may be confused with the purple heron due to some plumage similarities, but the latter is significantly smaller.

Diet and Feeding

The Goliath heron's diet consists almost entirely of fish, specializing in large specimens averaging 500 to 600 grams. It may also consume other small animals such as frogs, prawns, and occasionally carrion.

Conservation status

The Goliath heron is currently listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, indicating that, for now, this species is not at immediate risk of decline.

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Goliath Heron Fun Facts

Did you know?
The Goliath Heron is the largest of the Heron species with a height of up to 152 cm (5 ft), a wingspan of up to 230 cm (7 ft 7 in) and a weight of up to 5 kg (11.0 lb).

Goliath Herons on Birda


More Herons, Bitterns

A photo of a Agami Heron (Agamia agami)

Agami Heron

Agamia agami
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