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the web of life in southern Africa

Egretta ardesiaca (Black heron, Black egret) 

Swartreier [Afrikaans]; iKuwela [Zulu]; Samunkoma gomusavagani [Kwangali]; Zwarte reiger [Dutch]; Aigrette ardoisée [French]; Glockenreiher [German]; Garça-preta [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

Black heron holding a frog. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in isolated patches of sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa, it is uncommon to locally common in central and southern Mozambique, eastern and central South Africa (centred on Gauteng), Zimbabwe, northern Botswana and the Caprivi Strip of Namibia. It generally favours shallow, permanent water bodies such as marshes, rivers, lakes and dams, sometimes occupying seasonally flooded grassland and estuaries.

Distribution of Black 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

Little known, although it is most common in southern Africa in summer.


It mainly eats fish, supplemented with insects and crustaceans, using a distinctive foraging technique in which it wades through the water, intermittently forming a "canopy" for a few seconds (as in the photos below) by touching its wingtips. The reason for doing this is still debated: it could be to eliminate reflections, lure fish to a fake hiding place or prevent prey from noticing any sudden movements. It uses this technique wherever it feeds - captive birds often form the canopy over their plate of food!

Egretta ardesiaca (Black heron, Black egret)  Egretta ardesiaca (Black heron, Black egret) 
Black heron preparing to form a canopy. [photo Gerhard Theron ©] Black heron hunting for fish. [photo Gerhard Theron ©]


  • Probably monogamous, breeding sporadically within a colony of other water birds.
  • The nest is a platform of sticks and twigs or reeds, grass leafy branches, typically placed in a tree or reedbed, up to about six metres above ground or water.
  • Egg-laying season is from August-April, peaking from February-April in South Africa and from August-January elsewhere in southern Africa.
  • Very little is known about the eggs and chicks, other then that it lays 2-4 eggs.


Not threatened, although it is vulnerable to human disturbance when breeding.


  • 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.