White-Faced Heron

White-Faced Heron

White-fronted heron

Egretta novaehollandiae
Population size
Life Span
15-20 yrs
500-550 g
58-66 cm
106 cm


The White-faced heron is a slender, medium-sized heron and easily identified, with its blue-gray body and white face. It also has white on the front of the neck. It has long, lance-shaped feathers on the lower neck, chest, and back. The female is slightly smaller than the male. Juveniles have duller, paler plumage than adult birds, and have less white on their face, some pink-buff on their chest, browner underparts, and no long plumes.



The White-faced heron occurs throughout most of the Australasian countries, including New Guinea, the Torres Strait Islands, New Caledonia, Indonesia, New Zealand, the sub-Antarctic islands, and Australia, though not in this country’s driest areas. It also now lives on Christmas Island but may not yet breed there. It is also on Lombok, Sumbawa, and Flores, and has been seen as a vagrant in Cocos Islands, the Solomon Islands, and China. In Australia’s Northern Territory and the Cape York Peninsula, it is generally a winter visitor. In the late 1940s, it introduced itself to New Zealand and is the only heron known to breed in Tasmania. This species is locally nomadic and lives in habitats that feature both salty and fresh wetlands, farm dams, grasslands, pastures shores, saltmarsh, tidal mudflats, crops, boat-harbors, beaches, orchards, golf courses, and garden fish ponds.

Habits and Lifestyle

A graceful bird when flying, this heron uses slow, deep wing beats. Compared to other herons, it will more often fly with its neck extended. Generally solitary, and defending well-spaced territories for feeding, these birds may roost together or occasionally feed in small, loose groups. They sometimes follow other foraging birds, such as ibises and cormorants, to take advantage of any prey that is disturbed. This species feeds mainly during the day, though it has been seen to hunt at night. When disturbed, they will promptly leave the scene, using slow wing beats. They can be seen resting in trees. This species is nomadic and is partially migratory. Its calls include a ‘graaw’ or ‘graak’, when flying, typically during aggressive interactions. They also make a ‘gow, gow, gow’ sound on returning to their nest, and the alarm call is a high-pitched ‘wrank’.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

White-faced herons are carnivores, they eat mainly fish, crustaceans, and worms. They will also eat rats, mice, small reptiles, frogs, eels, grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, caterpillars, flies, and aquatic insects, as well as their larvae. In summer, they will eat large amounts of crickets from pastures and farmland.

Mating Habits

year-round, usually in August-December
24-25 days
38-42 days
2-4 eggs

White-faced herons make monogamous pairs and typically nest alone, or sometimes in a small colony of 5 to 10 pairs, sometimes more. Although they nest in some areas almost year-round, usually responding to rainfall and flooding, August to December is the usual breeding period. The nest is a flimsy stick platform, lined with grass and finer twigs, and built in a tree. Both the male and the female construct the nest, which may be reused in successive years. The usual place to nest is in saline or freshwater wetlands with surrounding trees, however, they sometimes nest in trees that are some distance from water. 2 to 4 eggs are usually laid and incubation is around 24 to 25 days, with the parents taking turns every ten hours. The chicks are fed with regurgitated food and fledge at 38 to 42 days, and often stay with their parents until the next brood arrives.


Population threats

The White-faced heron is currently not at risk of extinction, and in New Zealand and Australia, it is considered to be the most widespread and common heron species. Previously the main threat has been pollution and habitat destruction. Inland populations have recovered somewhat during the last two decades due to the banning of DDT and the improved habitat management on federal and state refuges. The coastal populations have continued a decline during the past 20 years, which is perhaps due to pesticides used for rice farming.

Population number

This species has an extremely large range, but current statistics on population are not known. Currently, the White-faced heron is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Herons have good sight and can hunt at night, as well as during the day.
  • Although herons look like birds from other families, like storks, ibises, cranes, and spoonbills, they differ from these species in that they fly with their necks retracted, instead of outstretched.
  • The sacred Bennu bird, which represented the soul of the supreme sun god Ra, was often depicted in ancient Egyptian art in the form of a heron characterized by the two long feathers that streamed from the back of its head.
  • In Greek mythology, herons were messengers from the gods, such as Athene and Aphrodite.
  • For the Chinese, the heron represents strength, patience, purity, and long life.
  • In Africa, it was believed that the heron communicated with the gods.


1. White-Faced Heron Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-faced_heron
2. White-Faced Heron on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22696938/0
3. Xeno-canto bird call - https://xeno-canto.org/605832

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