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A photo of a Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)
Purple Heron

Purple Heron

Ardea purpurea

The Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), a statuesque avian, stands with a height ranging from 70 to 94 cm and boasts a wingspan of 120 to 152 cm. Despite its grand stature, it is a slender creature, tipping the scales at a mere 0.5 to 1.35 kg. This bird is slightly smaller and more svelte than its cousin, the Grey Heron, and is adorned with darker, reddish-brown plumage.

Identification Tips

Adult Purple Herons are distinguished by their black foreheads and crowns, with a dark stripe cascading down the back of the neck, culminating in a modest, dangling crest. Their heads and necks are a buffish chestnut, streaked with dark lines, while the mantle dons an oily brown hue. The upper parts and tail are a brownish grey, and the underparts are a mix of chestnut and black. During the breeding season, the beak of the adult brightens, and the eyes gleam with a yellow iris.

Habitat

The Purple Heron is a denizen of marshes, lagoons, and lakes, often shrouded by dense vegetation. It has a penchant for freshwater habitats, particularly those with expansive reed beds of Phragmites. Coastal mangrove swamps are also within its realm, though less frequently visited.

Distribution

This heron has a broad range that spans Africa, central and southern Europe, and the southern and eastern Palearctic. While the Western Palearctic populations are migratory, their African and tropical-Asian counterparts are mostly sedentary, save for occasional dispersive movements.

Behaviour

The Purple Heron is a creature of stealth and grace, often retreating to the sanctuary of reed beds. It exhibits a slow, deliberate flight, with its neck retracted and legs trailing behind. On land, it moves with long toes that allow it to traverse floating vegetation or even bushwalk without grasping the branches. Dawn and dusk are its preferred times for activity, with the bird often seen stalking or standing in ambush for its prey.

Song & Calls

The heron's vocalization is a subdued "frarnk," a quieter and higher-pitched affair compared to the Grey Heron. It is generally less vocal, but similar guttural sounds may emanate from its colonies.

Breeding

Purple Herons are colonial breeders, constructing bulky nests from dead reeds or sticks in close proximity to water. They lay about five bluish-green eggs, with both parents sharing incubation duties. The young emerge after approximately four weeks and take their first flight six weeks later.

Similar Species

The Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) is the most similar species, but the Purple Heron can be differentiated by its smaller size, darker plumage, and the shorter crest on its head.

Diet and Feeding

A versatile predator, the Purple Heron's diet includes fish, rodents, frogs, insects, and more. It employs both stalking and ambush tactics to capture its prey, often waiting motionlessly or slowly stalking its victim.

Conservation status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the Purple Heron as "Least Concern," despite a global population trend that is on the decline. The primary threat to this species is the drainage and disturbance of wetland habitats, particularly the destruction of reed beds.

Purple Heron Sounds



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Purple Herons on Birda

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