Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala


Justification of Red List category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be increasing as ongoing habitat degradation is creating new areas of suitable habitat.


Behaviour Although populations of this species breeding in the equatorial zone of Africa are largely sedentary other populations are partially migratory and move in relation to the timing of the dry seasons (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The species nests in small mixed-species colonies of up to 200 pairs with breeding activities peaking during the rains (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The species is usually a solitary forager, but may occasionally congregate into loose feeding flocks (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and commonly roosts in groups of tens to hundreds of individuals (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Individuals may travel over 30 km daily between preferred feeding grounds and roosting sites (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Habitat The species inhabits marshes (Hancock and Kushlan 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1992) with reed and papyrus beds (Brown et al. 1982, del Hoyo et al. 1992), the margins of rivers and lakes, estuaries (del Hoyo et al. 1992), coastal creeks (Hancock and Kushlan 1984) and flats (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), temporary pools (Hancock and Kushlan 1984) and natural savannas or artificial grasslands (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) including damp open pastures, moist grassland and cultivated land (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Diet Its diet consists of terrestrial and aquatic insects (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (especially Orthoptera), earthworms (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), crabs (del Hoyo et al. 1992), Arachnids (e.g. scorpions and spiders) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), small mammals (e.g. rats, water voles, musk-shrews (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and mice (Hancock and Kushlan 1984)), lizards, snakes, frogs, birds and fish (Hancock and Kushlan 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Insects are the most important prey item for the species during the rains, although these become less important as grasslands dry out (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Breeding site The nest is a platform of sticks usually positioned high in trees (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. eucalyptus, baobab, acacia, fig or palm) (Brown et al. 1982) or in reedbeds (Brown et al. 1982, del Hoyo et al. 1992), papyrus beds, floating islands of papyrus or on sandstone ledges (Brown et al. 1982). The species nests in colonies with up to 35 pairs nesting in one tree (Brown et al. 1982). Management information In Cameroon the re-flooding of a desiccated flood-plain twinned with an increase in rainfall and colony protection resulted in a increase in the number of breeding pairs of this species (Scholte 2006).


Utilisation The species is hunted and traded at traditional medicine markets in Nigeria (Nikolaus 2001).


Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Malpas, L.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Ardea melanocephala. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023.