Hooded and gowned: the Black Heron

A witch’s coven?? A gathering of gowned academics? An achingly chic Parisian fashion show?

No, just a group of Black Herons, looking for their lunch. The Black Heron, Egretta ardesaica, is a small heron 42-66 cm, weighing around 270-390 g. It is also known as the Black Egret. Here is a photo of it next to a Little Egret, Egretta garzetta.

It is famous for its ingenious and highly unusual hunting strategy. It spreads its wings over its head to create a dark tent over the water’s surface, reducing glare, and lulling the fish into a false sense of security. The neck plumes are used to complete the umbrella. Then it pounces.

The technique is called Canopy Feeding. At the same time, it stirs the water with one foot, presumably to rustle up some prey.

The wings are said to stay up for only 2-3 seconds at a time, but the ones we were watching seemed to stay there much longer. Below, on the right, is one heron with its wings half-way up into the feeding position.

They are elegant birds, with extra-wide flight feathers so that the canopy has no gaps:

Their feet are bright yellow, like the Little Egret’s. (Sorry about the blurry photo, the only one I caught with the feet visible.)

In German, it is called Glockenreiher, Bell Egret, I assume for the shape it makes when hooding. You can see it in action in this video, in a version immortalized by the BBC in a sketch from their comedy show Walk on the Wild Side.

The Black Heron is not endangered. Its range is mainly East Africa, and Madagascar (where populations are in worrying decline), and in West Africa it seems to prefer coastal areas.

PS I wanted to get closer to get better photos, but it meant walking out onto a patch of wetland where 15 minutes earlier I had seen this.

West African crocodile

So I didn’t. One fellow-traveler ventured out, and came back with all his toes and probably much better photos.

Finally, my own distant video of the entire group fishing:

3 thoughts on “Hooded and gowned: the Black Heron”

  1. Great hunting strategy from a beautiful bird. Don’t they get hot in the African sun with those dark feathers? The video is hilarious with the comments from the spoonbill! Your fellow traveler is somewhat of a dare-devil…glad that his/her toes didn’t get ‘nibbled.


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