home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Ardea purpurea (Purple heron)

Rooireier [Afrikaans]; Ucofuza, Undofu [Xhosa]; Samunkoma gomugeha [Kwangali]; Kokolofitoe -lalatšehla [South Sotho]; Rikolwa [Tsonga]; Kôkôlôhutwę [Tswana]; Purperreiger [Dutch]; Héron pourpré [French]; Purpurreiher [German]; Garça-vermelha [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 purpurea (Purple heron)
Purple heron. [photo Callie de Wet ©]
Ardea purpurea (Purple heron) Ardea purpurea (Purple heron)
Purple heron, Roodeplaat Dam, South Africa. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©] Purple heron, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Philip Fourie ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from western Europe to southern China and Indonesia, also occupying Madagascar and sub-Saharan Africa. In southern Africa, it is uncommon to locally common in northern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), northern Zimbabwe, central and southern Mozambique and South Africa. It generally prefers dense vegetation (especially Phragmites reedbeds) on the edge of shallow wetlands or mangroves; it is less tolerant of disturbed habitats than the Grey heron.

Distribution of Purple 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.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Resident in perennial wetlands, although it may make nomadic movements to exploit temporary wetlands.


It mainly eats fish, doing most of its foraging in reedbeds, slowly wading through floating vegetation before rapidly stabbing its prey. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Vertebrates
    • fish
      • Clarias (catfish)
      • Labeo altivelis (Manyane labeo)
      • Labeo cylindricus (Redeye labeo)
      • Oreochromis machrochir (Greenhead tilapia)
      • Tilapia rendalli (Redbreast tilapia)
      • Brycinus imberi (Imberi)
    • amphibians
    • reptiles
    • small mammals
    • birds
  • Invertebrates
    • crustaceans
    • dragonflies (Odonata)


  • Monogamous and territorial, usually breeding small colonies in dense reedbeds or stands of trees (occasionally along with other species), rarely nesting solitarily. It defends its nest against intruders by performing a variety of displays and sometimes attacking, stabbing with its bill.
  • The nest (see image below) is built by both sexes, consisting of a platform of bent Phragmites reeds or Bulrushes (Typha capensis), lined with reed leaves and small water plants. It is typically placed over water in a reedbed; the male chooses the site where the nest is built.
Ardea purpurea (Purple heron)  
Purple heron sitting on nest with chick.  [photo Peter Steyn ©]  
  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from July-February.
  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 25-27 days.
  • Competition for food between the chicks is intense, sometimes resulting in the death of the youngest sibling. They leave the nest at about 20 days old, fledging 10-15 days later and becoming fully independent at approximately 55-65 days old.


Not threatened, although it is probably negatively impacted by wetland drainage and agriculture.


  • 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.