White-faced heron Click to enlarge image
A White-faced Heron – a frequently encountered waterbird in urban greenspaces in Australia, often near water. This photo was taken in Centennial Park, Sydney, New South Wales Image: Corey Callaghan
© Corey Callaghan

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    novaehollandiae
    Genus
    Egretta
    Family
    Ardeidae
    Order
    Ciconiiformes
    Class
    Aves
  • Size Range
    60 cm to 70 cm

The White-faced Heron is mostly light blue-grey in colour, with a characteristic white face. They are the most commonly seen herons in Australia. They feed on a wide variety of prey, including fish, insects and amphibians.

Identification

The White-faced Heron is mostly light blue-grey in colour, with a characteristic white face. In flight, the dark flight feathers of the wing contrast with the paler grey plumage, making this bird easily identifiable when viewed from below. It has a long, slim neck and a pointed grey-black bill. The legs are long and dull yellow in colour. Sexes are similar. When breeding, the birds have long feathers (nuptial plumes) on the head, neck and back. The White-faced Heron has a slow bouncing flight. Young White-faced Herons are similar in appearance to the non-breeding adults (no nuptial plumes), but are duller, with little or no white on the face. They often have a reddish colour on the underparts.

Habitat

White-faced Herons can be found anywhere where there is water, from tidal mudflats and coastal reefs to moist grasslands and gardens.

Distribution

White-faced Herons are the most commonly seen herons in Australia. They are found throughout the mainland and Tasmania, and most coastal islands. They also occur in Indonesia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and New Zealand.



Feeding and diet

The White-faced Heron feeds on a wide variety of prey, including fish, insects and amphibians. Food is obtained in a variety of ways, such as walking and disturbing prey, searching among damp crevices or simply standing in the water and watching for movement.

Breeding behaviours

White-faced Herons may breed outside the breeding season in response to rainfall. Both sexes share the building of the nest, incubation of the eggs and care of the young. The nest is an untidy structure of sticks, placed in a tree. Normally only one brood of young is raised in a year.

  • Breeding Season: October to December.