Graceful avian visitors easily recognised in flight



Australasian White faced Heron: These graceful birds can be seen in paddocks, the Waiuku basin and on the shores of the Manukau. They are also seen on playing fields around Franklin, especially after a game when the bugs have been brought to the surface by the sprigs on boots.
They stand 65 – 70cm tall and are bluish grey in colour with a distinctive white face. Their call is quite harsh and usually made while flying or perching in tall pines or eucalyptus trees, where they nest. They make their nest of twigs high up in these trees, on the outer reaches of a dense branch or in the fork of a branch. It is very untidy. Three to five blue/green eggs are laid and incubated by both parents for 26 days. Usually only two chicks survive and stay around the nest until they fly at about six weeks.
They are easily recognised in flight with their long legs straight out the back under the tail and their necks tucked back against their chest. Their wing beat is quite slow but they make their way across the sky at a good pace.
The funniest predicament I have seen one of these birds in was when one misjudged a landing. He came in to land on an estuary and the water was deeper than he had judged. The look on that bird’s face was priceless and we can all imagine what he would have said if he could have talked!
These herons were first reported in New Zealand in the 1860s and the first recorded breeding was at Shag River in Otago in 1941. Now they can be seen throughout the country and are classed as a ‘self introduced native’. They feed on worms, frogs, small fish and bugs, and the population has escalated since 1940 as land has been opened for farming.
– By Ngaire Deed

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