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Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be increasing as ongoing habitat degradation is creating new areas of suitable habitat.

Behaviour Although populations of this species breeding in the equatorial zone of Africa are largely sedentary other populations are partially migratory and move in relation to the timing of the dry seasons (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The species nests in small mixed-species colonies of up to 200 pairs with breeding activities peaking during the rains (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The species is usually a solitary forager, but may occasionally congregate into loose feeding flocks (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and commonly roosts in groups of tens to hundreds of individuals (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Individuals may travel over 30 km daily between preferred feeding grounds and roosting sites (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Habitat The species inhabits marshes (Hancock and Kushlan 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1992) with reed and papyrus beds (Brown et al. 1982, del Hoyo et al. 1992), the margins of rivers and lakes, estuaries (del Hoyo et al. 1992), coastal creeks (Hancock and Kushlan 1984) and flats (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), temporary pools (Hancock and Kushlan 1984) and natural savannas or artificial grasslands (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) including damp open pastures, moist grassland and cultivated land (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Diet Its diet consists of terrestrial and aquatic insects (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (especially Orthoptera), earthworms (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), crabs (del Hoyo et al. 1992), Arachnids (e.g. scorpions and spiders) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), small mammals (e.g. rats, water voles, musk-shrews (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and mice (Hancock and Kushlan 1984)), lizards, snakes, frogs, birds and fish (Hancock and Kushlan 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Insects are the most important prey item for the species during the rains, although these become less important as grasslands dry out (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Breeding site The nest is a platform of sticks usually positioned high in trees (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. eucalyptus, baobab, acacia, fig or palm) (Brown et al. 1982) or in reedbeds (Brown et al. 1982, del Hoyo et al. 1992), papyrus beds, floating islands of papyrus or on sandstone ledges (Brown et al. 1982). The species nests in colonies with up to 35 pairs nesting in one tree (Brown et al. 1982). Management information In Cameroon the re-flooding of a desiccated flood-plain twinned with an increase in rainfall and colony protection resulted in a increase in the number of breeding pairs of this species (Scholte 2006).

Utilisation The species is hunted and traded at traditional medicine markets in Nigeria (Nikolaus 2001).

Brown, L. H.; Urban, E. K.; Newman, K. 1982. The birds of Africa vol I. Academic Press, London.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Hancock, J.; Kushlan, J. 1984. The herons handbook. Croom Helm, London.

Kushlan, J. A.; Hancock, J. A. 2005. The herons. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Nikolaus, G. 2001. Bird exploitation for traditional medicine in Nigeria. Malimbus 23: 45-55.

Scholte, P. 2006. Waterbird recovery in Waza-Logone (Cameroon), resulting from increased rainfall, floodplain rehabilitation and colony protection. Ardea 94(1): 109-125.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Species factsheet from HeronConservation - The IUCN-SSC Heron Specialist Group

Text account compilers
Malpas, L., Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Ardea melanocephala. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Ardeidae (Herons)
Species name author Vigors & Children, 1826
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 19,100,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change