This small heron has a mostly white plumage, with a black back, nape and crown and long white plumes from their crown. During the breeding season their legs are red in colour.
The northern populations of this species are migratory. In other regions they do not migrate, but will disperse after the breeding season. Although these birds will form quite large groups, some populations only form flocks to roost or breed.
During the breeding season they build nests of sticks, reeds and other plant materials. These will be reused the following year if in good condition. Where they nest varies greatly, some nest in trees or bushes, others on cliff ledges or on the ground. They lay three to five eggs, which the female will incubate. The chicks have brownish down with a dark crown and fledge after about six weeks. In some areas the parental pair will then lay a second clutch of eggs.
These herons are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of small vertebrates, insects, crustaceans, and eggs. They hunt at dawn, dusk and during the night, often standing motionless in the water waiting for prey to come within reach.
They are classed as Least Concern, but are threatened by damage to and destruction of wetlands. They are also hunted as food and as pests in some regions. These birds are susceptible to being poisoned by pesticides or catching disease such as bird flu.
- Conservation Status: Least Concern
- Distribution: Africa, Central America, Central Asia, Europe, South America, Southern Asia, Southern East Asia, Southern North America
- Habitat: Coast, Swamp, Wetlands
- Diet: Insects, Small Amphibians
- Height: 56 - 65cm
- Weight: 525g - 800g
- No. of young: 3 - 5
- Life Span: 21 years