Many long-legged waterbirds birds are highly visible because of their size and colour. However, there is one waterbird that often escapes notice. Its slender body and grey plumage are easily lost amongst the grasses, mud and rocks of its wetland environs. If a glimpse of its white face is not realised, the white-faced heron is a bird that may remain unseen.
The white-faced heron is a long-necked bird of 68cms with a dark pointed bill, a grey body and a white face. When breeding, cinnamon plumes appear on the breast and blue-grey plumes appear on the back. It has long yellow legs and large yellow feet. Each foot has three front toes and one back toe. The serrated nail on the extended middle front toe is used for grooming. In flight, the neck is tucked back into the body to form an S-shape and the legs trail downwards.
White-faced herons belong to a family of birds known as Ardeidae. Members of this family include egrets, herons and bitterns. Birds in this family share an unusual feature. They have patches of disintegrating feathers that produce a talc- like powder. This powder is used to dress other feathers.
During the breeding season, white-faced herons build shallow stick nests high in trees. Both parents are involved with nest building, incubation and care of the young. White-faced herons forage in shallow water using their dagger-like beaks to spear prey. Their diet consists mainly of small aquatic creatures.
White-faced herons are common throughout Australia and can be found in pastures, parklands and most wetland areas including tidal mudflats and coastal reefs. I have seen them at several locations along the Fleurieu Peninsula. My favourite locations for viewing white-faced herons are Encounter Bay, the Inman River estuary and the Goolwa barrage.
Written by Ann Somerville-Charles (artist, composer and poet) of Victor Harbor.