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Purple Heron  (Ardea purpurea) | by Brian Carruthers-Dublin-Eire
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Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)

East Coast Nature Reserve (ECNR) Newcastle Co.Wicklow Ireland 07-07-2017


[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ardeidae | [latin] Ardea purpurea | [UK] Purple Heron | [FR] Heron pourpre | [DE] Purpurreiher | [ES] Garza Imperial | [NL] Purperreiger


spanwidth min.: 110 cm

spanwidth max.: 145 cm

size min.: 79 cm

size max.: 90 cm


incubation min.: 25 days

incubation max.: 30 days

fledging min.: 45 days

fledging max.: 30 days

broods 1

eggs min.: 3

eggs max.: 7



Physical characteristics


its body is dark and elongated. Its head and neck are narrow and elongated. Its beak can be used as a harpoon to catch prey. The long paws allow the purple heron to reach the deepest water. The long and well-spaced fingers allow the purple heron to walk easily on marshy grounds and on water vegetation. Its typical stretching neck completes its beak, increasing the efficiency and the speed of the attack to prey. It can live up to 23 years.




Purple Herons feed mainly on fish, but will also eat insects, amphibians, and occasionally shellfish, small mammals, reptiles and even small birds.


Other details


This heron inhabits permanent swamps of southern Eurasia, Eastern and Southern Africa. European birds winter in Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly in East Africa. In 1995 the population of the European Union amounted to 5200 breeding pairs (EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds), but following a long history of persecution and habitat destruction its distribution is strongly fragmented and reduced to a small number of breeding colonies. In several countries, including the Netherlands, the decline is continuing. Its seems also to be linked to a bad survival rate in the winter quarters




The Purple Heron feeds on fish, amphibians, insects (both grubs and adults), especially from sunset to sunrise. During wading keeping its beak very near the water and swallow with a rapid neck and head movement the fishes from the head, in order to make them easily pass through the oesophagus. Also feeds on amphibians, beetles, and molluscs- occasionally eating small mammals, snakes and lizards




This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence 30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from]




The nest is usually build in reedbeds and in between plants typical of wet areas, generally close, at 0.5 -1 meter, from water. The nest also built on trees up to 25 meters from the ground, made of reeds and small branches. The purple herons usually lay 4-5 eggs with an incubation period of 25 to 30 days. The chicks fledge after 45 to 50 days. During courtship the males plumage is more bright, especially on the neck. The pairs bond at least for one season. Both parents take care of the chicks. They nest in small colonies, generally made up of two or three pairs bur also single. In central Europe eggs are laid at the end of April, or at the beginning of May, in the South of Europe three weeks later.




Marked post-breeding dispersal. W Palearctic birds migratory, wintering in Africa S of Sahara but N of Equator, especially in W Africa, a few in Mediterranean Basin, Middle East and Baluchistan, Pakistan- move S Aug-Oct, returning Mar-May, with some regularly overshooting into N and C Europe. Birds breeding in NE Asia migrate to Korea, S China, Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia. African and tropical Asian breeders sedentary, sometimes with local movements. Migration normally by day in small groups, but flocks of 350-400 birds in Turkey. Accidental to many islands of NE Atlantic, from Canaries to Iceland, also Brazil and Japan.


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Taken on July 7, 2017