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Gorsachius leuconotus (White-backed night-heron) 

Witrugnagreier [Afrikaans]; Hakaruu (generic term for short-necked herons and bitterns) [Kwangali]; Witrugkwak [Dutch]; Bihoreau à dos blanc [French]; Weißrücken-nachtreiher [German]; Garça-nocturna-de-dorso-branco [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

Gorsachius leuconotus (White-backed night-heron)   

White-backed night-heron with chicks at nest, Umhlanga Rocks Lagoon, South Africa. [photo Hugh Chittenden ©]


For information about this species, see birdinfo.co.za.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa it is generally rare in northern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), Zimbabwe, western Mozambique and north-eastern and southern South Africa. It generally prefers clear and slow-moving watercourses with overhanging vegetation, especially in woodland and forest but also in more open country. It occasionally moves to lakes, dams, marshes, mangrove swamps and occasionally reedbeds.

Distribution of White-backed night-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, but it is thought to be largely resident, perhaps making occasional movements in response to rainfall.


Its diet is thought to mainly consist of fish, amphibians, molluscs, crustaceans and insects, doing most of its foraging along the shallow margins of water bodies. It hunts by either standing still and catching anything that comes close, or by wading through the water and pursuing prey.


  • Monogamous solitary nester, building a stick platform lined with grass, reed stems and leaves (see image at the top of the page). It is typically concealed in a shrub or tree over or near water, such as Sycomore fig (Ficus sycomorus), Powder-puff tree (Barringtonia racemosa), river-bean (Sesbania), willows (Salix) or Cherry-pie (Lantana camara). It may be placed in reeds or rock piles far from water, especially on islands.
  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from March-May in northern Botswana and from August-November elsewhere.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 23-26 days.
  • The chicks are brooded and fed by both parents, leaving the nest for surrounding branches at about 20-21 days old. They leave completely at about 42-56 days old, although they remain dependent on their parents for a long time after fledging.


Not threatened globally, but Vulnerable in South Africa, largely due to habitat destruction and disturbance.


  • 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.