Australian Bush Birds
White-faced Heron  -  Ardea novaehollandiae
White-faced Heron
White-faced Heron striding through water as the incoming tide covers its feeding mud flats. (Port Albert, Victoria)
map map The White-faced Heron - Ardea novaehollandiae - is a slender blue-grey heron with white neck and face, dark brown bill. Body is grey-blue, upper parts and wings are grey, belly paler, legs greenish-yellow. Male and female are similar. Reaches 66-69 centimetres in length. Heavy, slow flight.

Breeding individuals have long plumes on nape and back with shorter plumes on lower foreneck and breast.

Abundant throughout Australia (including Tasmania) in temporary or permanent habitats, except for arid parts of Western Australia and South Australia. Lives in shallow wetlands, margins of swamps, dams and lakes, damp or flooded pasture as well as in salt or brackish shallows or estuaries, mudflats, mangroves, saltpans, reefs, beaches and dunes. Adapts to urban areas. Has gained from European settlement by increased open wet pasture, irrigated land, ditches and dams.

White-faced Heron White-faced Heron
Left. White-faced Heron with neck extended. Right. White-faced Heron searching for food with neck kinked.
White-faced Heron - page 2
White-faced Heron in flight
White-faced Heron in flight. The legs extend beyond the tail and the head is folded back against the body.
Most often seen in ones or twos foraging over intertidal mudflats, swamps, pasture, even playing fields and residential lawns. Sometimes in loose flocks on pasture. Eats a varied diet, mostly crustaceans, insects, amphibians, snails and worms. Hunts by slow stalking watching the ground intently ready to strike. Magpies regard White-faced Herons as competitors and have been seen driving herons away from magpie territory. Herons may use one foot to stir up water in a pool.

White-faced Heron
White-faced Heron with grey body, white face, black beak and green-yellow legs.
White-faced Heron - page 3
White-faced Heron
White-faced Herons in breeding plumage with grey plumes on the back; the closer bird has brown breeding plumes on the breast and back. Breeding birds may also have plumes on the neck and nape. (Bonshaw Weir in the Dumaresque River on the NSW/Qld border)
Breeds through most of the year, provided food is sufficient but more often over summer in southern and inland Australia using northern wetlands as a dry season refuge. In courtship one bird follows another walking slowly along a branch with its head lowered and pecking at sticks. The nest is a loose platform of sticks up to 20 metres above the ground in a tree, not necessarily near water. Nests are sometimes loosely aggregated.

Up to seven eggs are laid, but usually four. Eggs are pale blue, oval in shape, about 48 by 35 millimetres. Incubation takes 24 to 26 days with both parents taking spells on the nest lasting ten hours or less. The change-over is accompanied by much bill-snapping, preening and croaking. Both parents feed the chick by regurgitation. After fledging chicks remain with their parents until the parents chase them away at the beginning of the next nesting season.

Sometimes known as the Blue-Crane.