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THE GREEN-BACKED HERON

29 July 2014

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The green-backed heron Butorides striata occurs widely in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australia and is a resident bird that does nog migrate. The specific epithet striatus is the Latin word for striped and either refers to the cream, white or buff edges of the dark green wings or to the central red-brown streak on the upper breast and throat. The eyes are deep orange, the bill is black and the legs and feet are bright red-orange to yellow-orange. It has a characteristic black crown and a long green dorsal crest. It was at first named Ardea striatus by Linnaeus in 1758 based on a specimen from Suriname in South America.

This type heron occurs singly in wooded areas along the margins of rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, wetlands and reed beds but occasionally ventures into open areas. In South Africa it is uncommon in the western, semi-arid regions but it is more common in the wetter north-eastern regions. It is agile, climbs among branches, reeds and roots and stands in a hunched stance while extending the head and neck horizontally. It is partially nocturnal and roosts alone among rocks or in trees although it may roost in small groups.

Hunting is done alone by day and night and the green-backed heron is a patient hunter that waits on the edge of water for prey to come within striking range of the sharp bill. It mainly eats small fishes and tadpoles but will also eat spiders and insects. Green-backed herons are not colonial nesters although the nests may be close together in neighbouring trees. The nest is built in three to four days by the female with material that is gathered by the male. It is a flimsy, saucer-shaped platform of sticks, twigs and reeds with an outside diameter of 230 to 330 mm and a height of 120 mm. The nest is built on a lateral branch of a tree or a dense shrub some 300 mm to 7 m above the ground or water surface. The eggs are laid mainly after the first rains in the summer. Incubation lasts 21 to 27 days and the chicks are hatched with open eyes and a black skin that is covered in grey down and have a yellow bill. At around 21 days old the chicks start to fly weakly but full fledging occurs at an age of 34 to 35 days.

Reference:

Hockey, P A R, W R J Dean & P G Ryan (Eds) 2005. Roberts Birds of South Africa, seventh edition. Cape Town: Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Trust, pp. 596 – 597.

Article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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