Striated heron (Butorides striata)

Also known as: green-backed heron, lava heron, little heron, mangrove heron
French: Héron à dos vert
GenusButorides (1)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Also known as the little heron due to its small size, the striated heron has a dark grey back, a thick grey to reddish-brown neck, a large, dark beak, and a glossy greenish-black cap, with a short crest (2) (3). The chin and throat are sometimes white, marked with a reddish-brown vertical band, and the underparts are brownish-grey to grey. However, the species is quite variable in appearance, and several subspecies are recognised. In general, the female striated heron tends to be slightly smaller and duller in colour than the male, while juveniles are brown with white spots, and have a brown-black crown with white streaks. The head, neck and underparts are streaked with buff-white, but this streaking is gradually lost as the bird matures. The striated heron is not a very vocal bird, but may give a ‘keeuuk’ call in flight or when alarmed. Displaying males may also use a ‘skow’ call, to which the female may respond with a gentle ‘coo’ (2).

The striated heron has an extremely large range, from South America, through central and southern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, India and the Indian Ocean islands, to south and east Asia, Australia, and islands in the Pacific Ocean (2) (4).

The striated heron is found in a wide variety of habitats, but usually near water, including mangrove-lined shores and estuaries, river edges, swamps, forested streams, lakes, salt flats, woods, rice fields and canals. It has been recorded from sea level up to elevations of about 4,000 metres in the Andes (2) (4) (5).

The diet of the striated heron consists mainly of fish, but it is an opportunistic feeder and will also take insects, worms, crustaceans, frogs, reptiles and even other birds. It usually feeds alone, often standing for long periods in or next to water, waiting to strike at prey (2). This species has also been observed to use an ingenious ‘fishing’ technique, dropping insects or leaves onto the surface of the water to attract prey, a method known as baiting (3) (6).

The striated heron does not appear to have a specific breeding season, nesting year-round in some areas, although often with a peak during the rains. The species may breed up to three times a year, constructing a nest in shrubs, bushes or trees, overhanging the water. At the nest site, the male performs an elaborate courtship display involving crest-raising, neck fluffing and ‘snap and stretch’ displays, in which the bird moves its head down to its feet and snaps the beak, before stretching the neck straight up and back. The courting pair then perform this ‘snap and stretch’ display together. The female striated heron lays three to five eggs, which usually take around 21 to 25 days to hatch. Both adults tend to the young, and it is quite common for this care to continue for quite some time after the young leave the nest. Most striated heron pairs nest alone, although loose breeding colonies do sometimes occur (2) (3).

The striated heron remains widespread and numerous, and is not currently considered at risk of extinction. However, the species has been affected by human disturbance, particularly through habitat loss, such as the destruction of mangroves in Asia and Australia. Pesticides used for agricultural purposes are also a potential threat, affecting the heron both directly, through the ingestion of contaminated prey, and indirectly, by reducing prey availability. In some parts of the world the striated heron is also hunted for food (2) (4).

There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for the striated heron. However, the species may benefit from conservation efforts being undertaken to try and stop further destruction of mangrove habitats, particularly in Central America and parts of South East Asia (7).

To find out more about the striated heron see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2009)
  2. Kushlan, J.A. and Hancock, J.A. (2005) The Herons. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Mangrove and Wetland Wildlife at Sungei Buloh Nature Park, Singapore: Little Heron, Butorides striata (November, 2009)
  4. BirdLife International (November, 2009)
  5. Fjeldsa, J. and Krabbe, N. (1990) Birds of the High Andes. Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen.
  6. Sazima, I. (2007) Frustrated fisher: geese and tilapias spoil bait-fishing by the green heron (Butorides striata) in an urban park in Southeastern Brazil. Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, 15(4): 611-614.
  7. Sathirathai, S. and Barbier, E.B. (2001) Valuing mangrove conservation in southern Thailand. Contemporary Economic Policy, 19(2): 109-122.