white-faced heron

Walking my dog along North Street, I do occasionally observe a white-faced heron in the paddocks there. There is something extraordinarily poetic, beautiful, about the way a heron lifts itself into the sky, lifts off for flight, slowly, opening its wings to life and the world, the sun, legs trailing. It improves my day no end.

The White-faced Heron, Ardea (Egretta) novaehollandiae, self introduced from Australia, began nesting here in the late 1940s so as a consequence is classified as a native. It is now the most common heron, having benefited from the widespread conversion of forest to farmland. They are found throughout Australia, except for the dry hinterland, and also occur in Indonesia, New Guinea and New Caledonia.

They feed in aquatic environments and damp pastures, taking fish, tadpoles, frogs, insects, spiders, worms and even mice. They will also, like the legendary white heron, raid suburban fish ponds. Food is obtained in a variety of ways, such as walking and disturbing prey, searching among damp crevices or simply standing in the water and watching for movement. I know of no official count on these birds but since the virtual disappearance of the introduced Australian bell frog, they have surely declined in numbers.

Like other herons, male and female white-faced herons share in the raising of their young. They build the nest together, usually high in trees, and take turns to incubate the eggs and feed the nestlings. Breeding takes place any time between June and October, and from the three to five pale blue-green eggs, usually only two young birds survive. The margins of Lake Wairarapa are the likely nesting place for our birds or perhaps one of the large macrocarpa trees, otherwise know as Monterey cypress, on the outskirts of town.

reef heron and white-faced heron
Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Matuka-moana, blue heron, blue crane.

Description:  — 

Native bird

67 cm., 550 g., light blue-grey in colour, white face, grey-black bill, legs long and dull yellow in colour. Sexes are similar. When breeding, long feathers (nuptial plumes) on the head, neck and back. Juveniles similar in appearance to the non-breeding adults with little or no white on the face. Slow bouncing flight.

Where to find:  — 

Widespread and common.

Illustration description: — 


Gould, Birds of Australia, 1840-48.

Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1st edition, 1873.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Page date & version: — 


Saturday, 7 June 2014; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.