Large grey herons are a common sight at many dams, rivers estuaries, lagoons and other bodies of water within southern Africa. Unmistakable with their long necks, long legs and dagger-like beaks, the Grey heron and the Black-headed heron share an almost identical range and although they are similar in size and general grey appearance, they are not difficult to tell apart.

The Grey heron is a large bird, about 94 cm in length, and, as mentioned, has predominantly grey plumage. Its head and neck long are white (the Black-headed heron has a black crown and black hind-neck), it has a distinct broad black eyebrow, long brownish legs and a bright yellow bill. During the breeding period the bill becomes bright orange and the legs become pink. In flight the under wings are uniformly grey (the Black-headed heron is black and white under-wing). The sexes of the Grey heron are alike in plumage and the females are slightly larger than the males.

Active both during the day and at night, the Grey heron favours shallow water when it is feeding. It may hunt while wading or while standing perfectly still and waiting for a likely morsel to approach. It feeds mainly on fish, but also on molluscs, worms and insects. Its call, a harsh “kraank” is most commonly given when the bird is in flight. It flies slowly, with its neck retracted into an “S”, a characteristic that is common to all members of the heron family.

The Grey heron is generally a solitary bird, except when breeding. They are monogamous and may breed colonially, often sharing the colony with other species of waders. The nest is a platform of sticks, with the actual nesting area lined with smaller sticks and grass. The female lays a clutch of  one to four blue  or greenish-blue eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 28 days.

The scientific binomial for the Grey heron is Ardea cinerea; Ardea from the Latin for a heron, and cinerea from the Latin for grey. Thus the name describes a grey heron. Can’t say clearer than that.

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