Madagascar Pond-heron Ardeola idae


Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Endangered because it has a very small population which is undergoing a continuing decline because many of its breeding colonies are heavily and increasingly exploited for eggs and young. This exploitation is exacerbated by pressures on its wetland habitats.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,000-6,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 1,300-4,000 mature individuals (T. Dodman in litt. 2002).

Trend justification
Whilst the species remains fairly widespread, populations are low, and increasing exploitation at breeding sites is likely to increase the rate of population decline (ZICOMA 1999). As a result, a rapid and on-going population decline is suspected. The recently discovered breeding population on Mayotte is thought to be increasing (Rocamora 2004 in Ndang’ang’a and Sande 2008). In 1990 the species was considered to have undergone a significant recent decline (Burger et al. 1990).

Distribution and population

Ardeola idae breeds on Madagascar (2,000-6,000 individuals [Delany and Scott 2002]), Aldabra (20-50 pairs in 2001 [Ndang’ang’a and Sande 2008] down from 100 breeding pairs in 1970 [Benson and Penny 1971]) in the Seychelles, Mayotte (10-20 pairs  [Ndang’ang’a and Sande 2008, Rocamora in prep.] (eastern Comoro Island, to France) and Europa (15 pairs [Ndang’ang’a and Sande 2008] (Réunion, to France). It has a large non-breeding range in Central and East Africa including the Comoro Islands, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. It is present almost throughout Madagascar, but is always uncommon (ZICOMA 1999). It is rare in the south and probably commonest in suitable wetlands in the west (Morris and Hawkins 1998). A decline has been reported over the last 50 years, most notably on the high plateau (Salvan 1970, 1971, 1972, Morris and Hawkins 1998). Whilst it remains fairly widespread, populations are low, and increasing exploitation at most breeding sites is likely to increase the rate of population decline (ZICOMA 1999)


Behaviour This species is migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It breeds between October and March with a peak at the start of the wet season in November and December (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding is colonial, the species occurring historically in groups of up to 1,000 pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005), though now usually in much smaller numbers (Burger 1990), often as part of mixed-species colonies (Burger 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005). It migrates westward in May, and returns to its breeding range in October (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005). First-year birds are reported to remain in the non-breeding areas during the breeding season (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It forages solitarily. Habitat It principally inhabits freshwater wetlands, particularly shallow waterbodies fringed with vegetation and adjacent trees (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding In its Madagascan breeding range it occurs in grassy marshes, small lakes, ponds, ditches and rice fields, usually near trees and bushes (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), although it has been recorded nesting on islands where trees are scarce (Burger 1990). On Aldabra it uses mangroves, shallow inland pools and lagoon shores (Kushlan and Hancock 2005, Bunbury 2014), and is occasionally found to inhabit areas away from water (Benson and Penny 1971). Non-breeding In its non-breeding range it is commonly found along the banks of small streams, including those inside forest. It is also found on rice paddies, and more rarely in mangroves and on the seashore (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Diet It feeds on fish, insects and small invertebrates (Morris and Hawkins 1998), as well as frogs and small reptiles including skinks (Scincidae) and geckos (Gekkonidae) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Breeding Site It nests in trees and bushes in or near to marshes, lakes or ponds (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005). On Aldabra it also nests in mangroves (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). The nest is bulky and constructed of twigs (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005). It tends to be placed 0.5-4 m above the ground (del Hoyo et al. 1992), and when the species occurs in a mixed colony with A. ralloides, it occupies the higher nesting sites (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Typical clutch size is 3, incubation lasts about 20 days and chicks can feed alone at under 4 weeks old (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). 


The principal threat for this species is thought to be habitat loss as a result of the clearing, drainage and conversion of wetland habitats to rice fields (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Exploitation of eggs and young is heavy at many breeding sites and appears to be increasing in intensity (ZICOMA 1999), however the establishment of a local community association resource management process (Gestion Local Securisee or GELOSE) has significantly decreased these activities in these zones (Razafimanjato et al. 2007). The introduced fish Micropterus salmoides may compete for food (Salvan 1971, 1972). There is also evidence of hybridisation with Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides on Madagascar (Ndang’ang’a and Sande 2008).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II. Madagascar has recently ratified the Ramsar Convention, which should increase the priority given to wetland conservation. Forthcoming conservation efforts will focus on freshwater wetlands in Madagascar (R. Safford in litt. 2003), and actions have been proposed for Mayotte (GEPOMAY 2012). The species is fully protected on Aldabra Atoll (N. Bunbury in litt. 2016)

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct basic surveys on Madagascar and Aldabra to assess population size and provide a baseline for monitoring. Study its ecology to confirm the causes of decline. Research the extent, impacts and causes of hybridisation with A. ralloides. Locate and protect important breeding colonies under national protected area legislation. Reduce exploitation pressures through public-awareness campaigns. Regulate access to sites during the breeding season including community led control. Prevent development which reduces breeding habitat, including through the use of an EIA process for development.


45-48 cm. Small white heron. Breeding plumage all white, with long crest and scapular plumes. Blue bill and bare orbital skin, former with dark tip. Reddish legs. In non-breeding plumage, dark brown on crown and streaked dark brownish on mantle and underparts. Similar spp. In breeding plumage, easily distinguished from other white herons by short reddish legs and blue bill. In non-breeding plumage, from Squacco Heron A. ralloides by dark crown and streaky upperparts. Hints Found singly or in small groups, often with A. ralloides or egrets. Nests colonially with other herons.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Khwaja, N., Martin, R, Pilgrim, J., Robertson, P., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.

Rocamora, G., Bunbury, N., Safford, R., Hawkins, F.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Ardeola idae. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/09/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/09/2021.