White-faced Heron

5th May 2024
By Jonathan Tickner

Whitefaced Heron 2.jpg

A bird that can be seen across the continent and in a great variety of habitats, the White-faced Heron is certainly no stranger to the Merri Creek. 

I have seen them fishing in the turbulent waters near Dights Falls, hunting in the long grass on the banks of the Merri Creek, perched on a post in the Strettle Wetlands and wading in the quieter stretches of the creek.

In flight the White-faced Heron can be identified by its mostly grey appearance, darker flight feathers and long trailing yellow legs. The much larger White-necked Heron, which is occasionally seen along the Merri Creek, has a white neck and head and white “headlight” patches on the leading edge of its broad wings. If disturbed, the White-faced Heron sluggishly flies away on a low trajectory, while giving an annoyed “graark”.  Otherwise, it goes about its business quietly, patiently and efficiently.

White-faced Herons are known to move inland from the coast to breed.  They have certainly been recorded breeding along the Merri Creek.  Adult breeding birds, identified by their prominent white face, chin and upper neck, develop long plumes on the back and mantle with shorter plumes on the neck. I have come across families of two or three young birds waiting to be fed in the trees close to the creek in Abbotsford, Thornbury, Fawkner and Campbellfield.  The pair were photographed sitting in a tree at Moomba Park last October.

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The White-faced Heron is a bird that is well worth watching as it feeds. You never know what it may pluck from earth, or water, with its long, sharp bill.  It has a generalist diet, eating anything from aquatic insects, crustaceans, worms, snails, fish and even lizards. Its hunting methods vary: standing still and waiting for aquatic creatures to pass within its reach, stalking and even running after prey in the shallows, stirring the water and mud, probing the earth for worms, or snatching a reptile from the tangled vegetation on creek banks.

Whether feeding, flying or perching, the White-faced Heron is a handsome and entertaining bird. It is always at home in the shallows of our waterways where its patient, watchful behaviour is a familiar and delightful sight.

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Images: Our thanks to Jonathan Tickner


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