Tiny but innovative bird

Little heron, Mangrove heron or Green-backed heron…While this is how the layperson would identify this tiny bird, the more serious birders would at once be delighted to spot what they would refer to as the striated heron (Butorides striata).

Just around 44 cm tall, these herons are usually non-migratory. The little bird’s breeding habitat ranges from the wetlands in west Africa to Japan and Australia, and South America.

Living close to mangroves, estuaries, mudflats and coral reefs, this heron is quite commonly seen across the globe.

The adult bird has a blue-grey back and wings, white underparts, a black cap, with a dark line extending from the bill to under the eye and short yellow legs. Juveniles are browner above and streaked below.

Interesting behaviour

The striated heron has an interesting way of luring its prey. It uses a bait…and how? The bird places a feather, leaf or a live insect on the surface of the water and waits silently, without moving, on an overhanging bush just above the water. As soon as a fish or crab approaches the bait, the heron pounces on it and swallows it. Sometimes it stirs up the water with its feet to bring small creatures to the surface.

Its nest is an untidy platform of sticks measuring between 20–40 cm long and 0.5–5 mm thick. The nest measures some 40–50 cm wide and 8–10 cm high outside, with an inner depression that is 20 cm wide and 4–5 cm deep. It is usually built in not too high from the ground in shrubs or small trees but sometimes even in sheltered locations on the ground, near the water. A clutch comprises 2–5 eggs, which are pale blue and measure around 36 by 28 mm.

Young birds will give a display when they feel threatened, by stretching out their necks and pointing their bill skywards. But it is not known how this would ward off predators! Widespread and common, the striated heron is classified as a species of least concern by the IUCN.

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