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the web of life in southern Africa

Ardea goliath (Goliath heron)

Reusereier [Afrikaans]; Reuse-reier [Afrikaans]; uNozalizingwenyana [Zulu]; Ebo (also applied to Black-headed heron) [Kwangali]; Kokolofitoe -kholo [South Sotho]; Kklhutw [Tswana]; Goliathreiger, Reuzenreiger [Dutch]; Hron goliath [French]; Goliathreiher [German]; Gara-gigante [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Ardeidae

Ardea goliath (Goliath heron)

Goliath heron, Rondevlei Nature Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Goliath heron. [photo Arno Meintjes ]

Ardea goliath (Goliath heron) Ardea goliath (Goliath heron)
Goliath herons, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa. In southern Africa, it is uncommon to locally common in the far south and north of Namibia (including the Caprivi Strip), northern and eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, central and southern Botswana and central and north-eastern South Africa. It generally favours shallow water near the shore of large water bodies, such as lakes, estuaries, mangroves, reefs and marshes.

Distribution of Goliath heron in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Resident and probably partially nomadic, as birds have been recorded to move 100-290km.


It mainly eats fish, doing most of its foraging among floating vegetation in shallow water, walking extremely slowly (3-4 steps per minute). When it spots prey it stops moving, coiling its neck before stabbing the prey with its bill slightly open. Once caught it takes the food item to the shore (like in the photo below), killing the animal before swallowing it headfirst. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

Ardea goliath (Goliath heron)  
Goliath heron with fish, South Africa. [photo Peet van Schalkwyk , see also scienceanimations.com]  
  • Vertebrates
    • fish
      • Acanthopagrus berda (Riverbream)
      • Clarias gariepinus (Sharptooth catfish)
      • Pomadasys commersonnii (Spotted grunter)
      • Mugil cephalus (Flathead mullet)
      • Muraenesox cinereus (Conger pike)
      • Cyprinus carpio (Carp)
      • Oreochromis mossambicus (Mozambique tilapia)
      • Rhabdosargus holubi (Cape stumpnose)
      • Rhabdosargus sarba (Natal stumpnose)
      • Thryssa vitrirostris (Glassnose)
      • eels
    • birds (rarely)
    • small mammals
    • amphibians
    • reptiles
  • Invertebrates
    • Pennaeus (prawns)


  • Monogamous and usually a solitary nester, although it may breed in loose colonies of 2-7 breeding pairs.
  • The nest is built by both sexes, consisting of a large platform of reeds, sticks and water plants, typically placed in a tall tree, on the ground of an island, on a mat of trampled reeds or in flooded bushes or trees.
Ardea goliath (Goliath heron)  

Goliath heron shielding its chicks from the sun, Lake Panic, South Africa. [photo Peet van Schalkwyk , see also scienceanimations.com]

  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking during the wet season.
  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 24-30 days.
  • The chicks are unafraid of humans: if disturbed, they make a hissing noise and sometimes a perform threat display. They leave the nest at roughly 40 days old, becoming fully independent approximately 15 days later.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.