Grey herons are unmistakeable: tall, with long legs, a long beak and grey, black and white feathering. They can stand with their neck stretched out, looking for food, or hunched down with their neck bent over their chest.
Bitterns and herons (Ardeidae)
Where to see them
Around any kind of water – garden ponds, lakes, rivers and even on estuaries. Sometimes, grey herons circle high up into the sky and can be mistaken for large birds of prey.
When to see them
At any time of year – our grey herons do not migrate.
Pucong Seriap (Malay)
The Grey Heron is the largest bird in Singapore, standing at 1m tall with a wingspan of 2m.
Grey Herons eat whatever they can catch: fish, amphibians, arthropods (insects, spiders), crustacea (crabs), and even small mammals (rodents), reptiles (hatchling turtles), small birds (catching these on the wing). They are not above scavenging, and stealing prey caught by other birds (e.g., the Purple Heron).
Although Grey Herons roost and nest in groups, they hunt alone. But when prey is plentiful, they may feed in groups, evenly spaced out. They are most active at dawn and dusk.
Small prey is tossed back into the bill alive. Larger ones are shaken or stabbed to death then manipulated to be eaten head first. Those too large to swallow whole are discarded.
They are also found on the coast and occasionally in freshwater wetlands and grasslands further inland.
Breeding: Grey Herons breed from the low arctic to the tropics peninsula, Courting rituals include a courting call, clappering of bills and displays of erected plumes with neck stretching and wing flapping.
Grey Herons generally nest in colonies. Preferred nest sites are tall emergent trees, even dead ones. Their nests are large (40-45 cm wide) platforms solidly built out of sticks and lined with grass or fresh leafy branches. The males find and bring nesting materials to the females: the giving and receiving of sticks is done with lots of ritual. It is the female who does most of the actual construction.
3-6, usually 4, large greenish blue eggs are laid. Incubation takes 24-27 days. The young fledge in 7 weeks-3 months. Both parents feed and look after the young, who tug at their parents’ bills to get them to regurgitate food for them. There is intense sibling rivalry and one may kill another, and even eat it.
Migrants: Some Grey Herons that breed in the north migrate to the tropics, sometimes going beyond the range of resident, breeding tropical Grey Herons.
Status and threats: Grey Herons are vulnerable to the loss of breeding grounds as suitable habitats such as swamps and water bodies are cleared. Elsewhere in the world, Grey Herons are hunted as food and as a pest on fish farms and competitors for game fish. They are also affected by pollution, pesticides and habitat destruction.