What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #28 White-necked Heron

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#28 White-necked Heron
(Ardea pacifica)

This tall slender bird is another bird of Australia’s waterways and wetlands. Found across mainland Australia they can be found in a variety of aquatic environments including shallow fresh waters such as farm dams, roadside drains and flooded paddocks. It has been a frequent visitor to the flooded paddocks along the Yarra River near Healesville during 2012. They may also be found infrequently in tidal areas such as mudflats and swamps around the coast.

Easily distinguished by its white head and long white neck, it also has a double line of black spots down its throat. Its back and upper body is a slate black colour along with the bill, legs and feet, whilst the underparts are grey streaked with white.

When at rest the long neck of the heron is drawn down to the shoulders and during flight it is folded back. The legs trail behind when in flight and they will soar on the thermals to reduce energy use. Their wing beat is slow and deep.

The White-necked Heron is solitary wading bird with a diet consisting of insects, crustaceans, fish and frogs, which it finds amongst vegetation in the inundated areas, it inhabits. It stalks its prey silently through the shallow waters and then strikes out catching the prey with its long bill.

During the breeding season both parents incubate the eggs on a small nesting platform that is constructed of loose material, usually over water in a living tree. This provides some protection from predation. Breeding occurs in response to good rain depending on their location, but September – December are the usual months in which breeding occurs.

© Habitat Ecology 2013

White-necked Heron

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