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Western Reef Heron - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by ammadoux
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 21 November 2014
Egretta gularis

Alternative name: Western Reef Egret

Identification

55–65 cm (21½-25½ in)
Two morphs, a white and a dark slaty.
The Western Reef Egret or Heron has a slightly longer beak and tarsus than the sometimes similar Little Egret, and has bright yellow feet, which helps distinguish it from some other dark herons. It also has a distinctive single, wispy plume erutping from the back of the head.

Variations

White morph, Subspecies schistacea
Photo © by Goodoldphil
Dammam, Saudi Arabia, August 2009

Dark morph predominates in the nominate race.
In race schistacea dark morph is more blue-grey and less numerous than white morph. In the populations closest to Europe (the population most likely to stray) the number of white morph bird is estimated at 1%.

Distribution

Dark morph, Subspecies schistacea
Photo © by Jawad Roumi
Western Saudi Arabia, August 2009

Breeds on the Banc D'Arguin and the coast of Mauritania south to Gabon and the Gulf of Guinea islands. In the east breeds on the coasts of the Red Sea and south to Mozambique, Madagascar and Aldabra. Also breeds on Socotra and coastally from the Arabian Peninsula to southern India and Sri Lanka including the Lakshadweep and Maldive Islands. Formerly bred in Kuwait, now regular passage and winter visitor. Mainly resident but with some post-breeding dispersal along coasts adjoining breeding areas.

Recorded as a vagrant about 40 times in France, mainly the far south and the Camargue in particular, about 50 times in Italy and there are around 20 records for Spain, mainly in the Ebro Delta. Also recorded in Portugal, the Azores and increasingly in the Cape Verde Islands, Morocco and Tunisia, and Bulgaria. Some records refer to long-staying, practically resident, individuals. Also occasionally recorded elsewhere in Europe, e.g- Germany, but these are usually regarded as escapes.

This species has started to occur in the western hemisphere. It is a very rare visitor to Barbados and the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada (has occured in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey). All of these records (execpt possibly the Nantucket record in the 1983) may pertain to the same individual. The bird that appeared in July in the New York/ New Jersey region was noticed to be missing its right hallux, the toe that points backwards. The other birds photographed in North America aren't missing any digits, but the toe could have been lost in an accident prior to the birds New York area visit.

Taxonomy

Sometimes considered a subspecies of the Little Egret, or, more commonly, include the Dimorphic Egret as a subspecies.

White morph, Subspecies schistacea, juvenile
Photo © by AJDH
Dummistan, Bahrain, 10 July 2009

Subspecies

There are 2 subspecies[1]:

  • E. g. gularis (Western):
  • Coastal western Africa to Gulf of Guinea islands and Gabon
  • E. g. schistacea (Eastern):
  • Coastal eastern Africa to Red Sea, Persian Gulf and south-eastern India

Habitat

Rocky and sandy shores, reefs, mudflats and estuaries, mangroves and lagoons.

Behaviour

Diet

The diet consists of both aquatic and terrestrial insects such as locusts, crustaceans, and small fish. They also eat amphibians, molluscs, spiders, worms, reptiles and small birds.

Breeding

They generally nest alone, though may be in small, loose colonies with others of the same species. They construct a stick nest, which may be laid in a bush, on a ledge, on a rock or in mangroves. They sometimes build a new nest on top of an old one.

Their clutch consists of 1-7 (generally 3-4) greenish-blue eggs. The eggs hatch asynchronously after 26-28 days incubation. Fledging usually occurs after 40–45 days.

References

  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. del Hoyo, J., N. Collar, G. M. Kirwan, and N. Moura (2020). Western Reef-Heron (Egretta gularis), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.werher.01.1

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