Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca)

I’ve been meaning to blog about this bird for some time, as evidenced by the elastic band I left on the entry for it in my fun book of animals (not the official title, but it should be). I haven’t blogged about a bird for a while, and couldn’t think of one to do off the top of my head. So I flipped open my book and it fell open onto the marked page. So let’s talk about the black heron!

Black herons live in Africa, pretty much everywhere below the Sahara desert, though it is more common in the east. They prefer shallow waters, and can be found on the edges of lakes and ponds, marshes, rivers, flooded grasslands and basically anywhere where there is reasonably shallow water and fish to eat.

Black Heron, Chilwa, 26-Sep-08 (4) L

Black herons are reasonably sized for herons, reaching 66 cm in height. They have black feathers, with yellow feet. They look really cool actually. Almost like they’re wearing shoes. I have no idea what the yellow feet are there for, but they look really nice. Maybe it’s just fashionable in the African bird community.

The coolest thing about the black heron is its hunting technique, called canopy feeding. It uses it wonderful wings to form an umbrella around itself. This has two purposes: it provides the bird with shade so it can see fishes in the water better, and also creates shade for said fishes. When fish are scared or threatened, they head (quite sensibly) to shelter. Unfortunately, the ‘shelter’ provided by the heron is not very safe. The herons usually feed near spoonbills, other birds that stir up muddy lake beds to find food. This of course disturbs the fish, which head to the nearest shelter, providing a nice meal to the waiting heron. It’s a pretty good strategy if you ask me. All you have to do is sit around and wait and dinner comes straight to you.

A black heron canopy feeding

A black heron canopy feeding

Most herons are probably neat birds, but I have to say (without really researching any of other species) that black herons are the coolest. They can feed in flocks of up to two hundred birds. Can you imagine seeing two hundred ‘umbrellas’ in a lake? Talk about a photo op!

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