This species is listed as Endangered because it has a very small, fragmented population which is undergoing a continuing decline as a result of hunting and forest clearance, primarily owing to demands for timber and agricultural land. The species may warrant downlisting in the future should data prove that the recent increase in its known range also corresponds to an increase in the known population.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
Ardea purpurea (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) was split into A. purpurea and A. bournei by Hazevoet (1995). This treatment is not followed by the BirdLife Taxonomic Working Group although we do recognise consistent behavioural differences and that bournei is paler overall in colouration.
Distribution and populationGorsachius magnificus
54-56 cm. Secretive, boldly patterned night-heron. Males have blackish head and nape plumes, white postocular stripe, cheek-stripe and throat, broad blackish line down neck side, brown underparts with whitish streaks/scales and orange-buff to rufous-chestnut rear neck sides. Females have less distinct head and neck pattern, whitish streaks and spots on back and wings (particularly wing-coverts) and shorter nape plumes. Juvenile resembles female, but dark parts of plumage browner, has heavier whitish to buff spots above.
is known from southern China
and northern Vietnam
(BirdLife International 2001). By 2001, the species was known from c.20 localities, but since then extensive survey effort and increased awareness have resulted in records from more than 30 new localities (He Fenqi et al
. 2011). There are records from Hunan, Hubei, Zheijian, Anhui, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Xinping, Guangdong, Yunnan, Fujian, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces, and it was last recorded on Hainan in 1962 (Gao Yuren 2003, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden 2003, He Fenqi and Lin Jiansheng 2004, He Fenqi et al
. 2007a,b, M. Crosby in litt.
2009, He Fenqi et al
. 2011). There are also recent records from northern Vietnam
(including Ba Be National Park, Bac Kan province, and Na Hang Nature Reserve, Tuyen Quang province), among them the first and subsequent breeding records for the country (Anon. 2001, Nguyen Cu 2008, Eames and Le Manh Hung 2009, Pilgrim et al.
2009, J. Pilgrim in litt.
2009, Walsh 2010). Direct observations and information from local people suggest that there is a minimum of seven pairs in the Xuan Lac and Ba Be areas of Bac Kan province (Walsh 2010). The degree of connectivity between populations is poorly understood. The rate of discovery of new sites has led to considerable extension of its known range and suggests the species has been under-recorded and may breed across a wider range in southern China and northern Indochina (He Fenqi et al
. 2007a,b, 2011). However, significant threats to the species and its habitats remain and as a result a continuing decline is inferred. Population justification
The global population is estimated at c.250-999 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2001; M. Crosby in litt
. 2005). Although recent records confirm the species occurs in a wider range than previously thought, the aforementioned population estimate is still seen as appropriate (J. Kushlan in litt
. 2009). Brazil (2009) has estimated the population in China at fewer than 100 breeding pairs. The total estimate equates to 375-1,499 individuals in total, rounded here to 350-1,500 individuals.Trend justification
This species's population is presumed to be experiencing a rapid decline owing to hunting and the clearance and fragmentation of forest, primarily owing to demands for timber or agricultural land and damming of some sites for stream regulation.Ecology
Its ecology is poorly known. It occurs in subtropical and tropical forest, with recent records from sites close to streams, rivers, reservoirs and rice-fields (close to or within forest). Its ability to persist in modified habitats is also demonstrated by its presence as a breeding species in a low-integrity plantation forest in Nanning (He Fenqi et al
. 2007a) and secondary pine forest on reservoir islands in Zhejiang (per
Eames and Le Manh Hung 2009). Its diet includes small fish, shrimps and invertebrates, and it appears to be almost entirely nocturnal (Pilgrim et al.
2009). The species does not nest in heronries and lays 3-5 eggs (Li et al
. 2007). Threats
A key threat is forest clearance and fragmentation, primarily as a result of demands for timber and agricultural land in an extremely densely populated region. Although the species can nest in human modified habitats, vulnerability of monocultures to pest invasion is a risk (Fellowes et al
. 2001). Human disturbance may cause this secretive bird to abandon eggs while incubating (Li et al
. 2007). Hunting is a major additional threat, even inside protected areas, and it may be particularly vulnerable when nesting. The decline or disappearance of the birds in Hubei and parts of Guangxi and Guangdong has been attributed to habitat damage and direct hunting (He Fenqi et al
. 2007a). In Guangxi, the number of birds seen in markets outnumbers records in the wild. In recent years, a relatively high number of specimens have been collected, including those to supply scientific purposes, notably at Chebaling and Shennongjia (He Fenqi et al
. 2007a). This, like capture for food, is illegal in China. Direct habitat damage for dam construction, river regulation and road building has driven birds from known sites, but counter-intuitively these activities also create new habitats in some cases. It appears that most areas of suitable habitat in Vietnam are subject to pressure from deforestation and hunting (Eames and Le Manh Hung 2009, Pilgrim et al
. 2009, Walsh 2010), with overfishing and the intensive use of agricultural chemicals also being widespread (Pilgrim et al
. 2009). The impact of chemical pesticides and fertilizers is unknown. Other threats affecting Ba Be National Park, Vietnam, include firewood collection, harvesting of non-timber forest products, occupation of agricultural land within the park, cattle-grazing, water pollution and sedimentation (Eames and Le Manh Hung 2009, Walsh 2010
). Conservation Actions Underway
It is a Class II nationally protected species in China. It has been recorded in or near several protected areas in China, including Shennongjia Nature Reserve (Hubei), Tianmu Shan National Nature Reserve (Zhejiang), Dayao Shan Nature Reserve and Daming Shan Nature Reserve (Guangxi), Chebaling National Nature Reserve (Guangdong), Jianfengling Nature Reserve and Wuzhishan Nature Reserve (Hainan), and Jiulianshan Nature Reserve (Jiangxi) (Tang Pei-Rong and Liao Cheng-Kai 2003). In Vietnam, it has been recorded in Ba Be National Park and Na Hang Nature Reserve (Nguyen Cu 2008, Eames and Le Manh Hung 2009, Pilgrim et al.
2009, J. Pilgrim in litt.
2009, Walsh 2010). Special nature reserves have been created for the species in Fusui and Shangsi, southern Guangxi
(Fellowes et al
. 2001), of which the former was later merged administratively with the Fusui Precious Animal Reserve protecting the white-headed leaf monkey Trachypitheus poliocephalus
. Fieldwork in northern Vietnam in 2008 appears to have raised awareness amongst local people, such that they are now starting to officially report nests (Walsh 2010).Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue surveys in south-east China, and extend them to Hainan and Hoa Binh province, Vietnam, and conduct searches in the hill-districts of Fokien (Fujian), Chekiang (Zhejiang), and Anhwei (Anhui) (He Fenqi et al
. 2007a), with the aim of locating and censusing populations and determining whether additional sites require protection. Study the species's ecology at a known breeding site (preferably also a historical site where long-term presence can be confirmed) in order to estimate population connectivity and the species's likely range (He Fenqi et al
. 2007b). Implement conservation actions for its only known breeding site in Zhejiang. Extend, link, and manage (particularly to control encroachment, logging, tourism and stream damage), protected areas where it occurs. Instigate public-awareness programmes to stop hunting and habitat destruction. Carry out surveys in Bac Kan province and Tuyen Quang province, Vietnam, to assess the size of the population (Pilgrim et al
. 2009). Encourage nest protection schemes (Pilgrim et al
. 2009). Campaign for the Government of Vietnam to add the species to the list of those that are strictly protected (Pilgrim et al
Anon. 2002. Records of globally and nationally threatened wildlife in Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan, 2001. White-eared Night Heron. Living Forests: 30-32.
BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.
Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.
Eames, J. C.; Le Manh Hung. 2009. White-eared Night Heron Gorsachius magnificus in Ba Be National Park, Vietnam. BirdingASIA 12: 58-61.
Fellowes, J. R.; Zhou Fang; Lee Kwok Shing; Hau, B. C. H.; Lau, M. W. N.; Lam, V. W. Y.; Young, L.; Hafner, H. 2001. Status update on White-eared Night Heron Gorsachius magnificus in South China. Bird Conservation International 11: 101-111.
Gao Yuren. 2003. New record of White-eared Night-heron in Guangdong (Canton). Newsletter of China Ornithological Society 12: 8.
He Fen-Qi; Fellowes, J. R.; Chan, B. P. L.; Lau, M. W. N.; Lin Jian-sheng; Lee Kwok Shing. 2007. An update on the distribution of the 'Endangered' White-eared Night Heron Gorsachius magnificus in China. Bird Conservation International 17(1): 93-101.
He Fen-Qi; Lin Jian-sheng. 2004. Aktuelle und historische Beobachtungen des stark gefährdeten Hainanreihers in Südost-China. ZGAP Mitteilungen 20: 13.
He Fen-Qi; Zhou Fang; Yang Xiao-Jun; Yang Lan; Deng Xue-Jian; Hu Hong-Xing; Lin Jian-Sheng; Jiang Hang-Dong; Lin Zhi; Li Li; Zhu Kai-Ming; Anderson, B.; Zhang Hao-Hui; Dong J.T. 2007. Study on the status of distributions and subpopulations of the White-eared Night Heron Gorsachius magnificus. Acta Zootaxonomica Sinica 32(4): 802-813.
He Fenqi; Yang Xiaojun; Deng Xuejian; Zhu Kaiming; Li Li; Lin Jiansheng. 2011. The White-eared Night Heron (Gorsachius magnificus): from behind the bamboo curtain to the front stage. Chinese Birds 2(4): 163-166.
Li, Z.W.D., Yeap, C. A.; Kumar, K. 2007. Surveys of coastal waterbirds and wetlands in Malaysia, 2004-2006. In: Li, Z. W. D.; Ounsted, R. (ed.), The status of coastal waterbirds and wetlands in Southeast Asia: results of waterbird surveys in Malaysia (2004-2006) and Thailand and Myanmar (2006), pp. 1-40. Wetlands Internationa, Kuala Lumpur.
Nguyen Cu. 2008. White-eared Night Heron photographed at Na Hang Nature Reserve. The Babbler: BirdLife in Indochina: 37-38.
Pilgrim, J.D., Walsh, D.F., Thanh Tu, T., Duc Tu, N., Eames, J.C. and Manh Hung, L. 2009. The endangered white-eared night-heron Gorsachius magnificus in Vietnam: status, distribution, ecology and threats. Forktail 25: 142-146.
Tang Pei-Rong; Liao Cheng-Kai. 2003. White-eared Night Heron was found at Jiulianshan Nature Reserve, Jiangxi. China Crane News 7(1): 27-28.
Walsh, D. F. 2010. Update on the population of White-eared Night Heron in Vietnam. BirdingASIA: 13.
Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).
Species factsheet from HeronConservation - The IUCN-SSC Heron Specialist Group
View photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Calvert, R., Crosby, M., Harding, M., Peet, N., Taylor, J.
Crosby, M., Fellowes, J., Hafner, H., He, F., Kushlan, J., Lau, M., Pilgrim, J.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Gorsachius magnificus. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 07/12/2013.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2013) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 07/12/2013.
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.