White-faced Heron

Egretta novaehollandiae

White-faced Heron in breeding plumage. Photo: John Spiers
White-faced Heron. Photo: Kevin Williams

White-faced Herons are Australia’s most common and widespread heron and can be found in suitable habitat throughout the country, including Tasmania.

These herons eat a generalist diet including small fish, amphibians, aquatic insects and crustaceans, earthworms and carrion. They mainly feed by day but occasionally forage at night as well. Foraging techniques vary from walking slowly or quickly – even running – and then striking swiftly by shooting out the S-shaped neck. They may flush prey by foot stirring or raking of the surface. They usually forage alone but may associate in large flocks and with other species such as ibises, cormorants or spoonbills.

White-faced Heron on next. Photo: Kevin Williams


Breeding occurs in spring and early summer (October to December). The nest is a small platform lined with grass placed in the fork of a tree. Clutch sizes vary from 3-5 bluish to greenish-white eggs. Several clutches may be laid in a season. Chicks are lost to predators or storms with an average of 1.4 survivors per nesting attempt. The chicks are fed by both parents and after fledging remain with the parents for a short while.





Generally, a medium-sized heron with a variable amount of white on the forehead, crown, chin and upperthroat. The scapulars and flanks have a pinkish-brown wash. The tail is dark grey, and the legs and feet vary from greenish yellow to orange brown, becoming reddish in the breeding season. There are long grey plumes on the scapulars, mantle and throat, which have bronze or chestnut overtones on the chest. In non-breeding plumage, the plumes are shorter and disappear from the breast and scapulars. In flight the wings are grey, above and below, with darker flight-feathers.The bill is black with a paler grey base to the mandible. Males and females are alike with the female being smaller. Juveniles are duller and browner, with no white below the eye. They lack plumes. Immatures are whiter on the face, and have developed short plumes. Nestlings have grey down and yellow feet.

Where to find it

White-faced herons are found in suitable habitat throughout the state with fewer numbers in the arid west. They will use almost any kind of wetland including coastal waters and are often present in human modified areas far from water, such as golf courses, city parks and airfields. They are usually sedentary but may move large distances in response to rainfall.

Only the nominate species, E.n. novaehollandiae is found in South Australia.