White-necked Heron

Ardea pacifica

White-necked Heron. Photo: John Spiers

White-necked Herons are larger and more striking than the more commonly seen White-faced Heron. In South Australia they are often seen alone on farm dams, or on the small estuaries of creeks near the coast.

White-necked Herons feed on a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial animals including small fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic insects. Generally, they feed alone but sometimes in loose flocks. They forage by standing and waiting or walking slowly before rapidly striking with the bill.

These herons usually breed from spring to early summer (September to February) but season may extend depending on availability of food and water conditions. White-necked Herons are colonial nesters with colonies ranging from 2 to 30 pairs, and often mixed with other species such as cormorants, ibises and spoonbills. However, they may also nest alone at small waterbodies. The nest is a stick platform from material collected by males and placed high in a tree over or near water. The average clutch has 3-4 pale green-blue eggs. Both adults incubate the eggs and feed the chicks. Usually only two chicks survive to fledging.

Other names: Pacific Heron


A medium-large, black and white heron often seen alone. The head, neck and chest are white, contrasting with grey-black wings, tail and back. A double line of spots is often visible down the front of the chest, darker in non-breeding plumage. A conspicuous white patch is present on the leading edge of the wing, clearly visible in flight. Elongate white neck plumes cover the breast, and the back is covered by maroon lanceolate plumes originating from the scapulars. In non-breeding plumage, the plumes are smaller and sparser. The bill is black, the eyes yellow to green and the lores grey to black in non-breeding season becoming blue while breeding. The legs and feet are black. Males and females are alike. Immatures resemble non-breeding adults have grey-brown tinge to head and neck, lack plumes, have yellow to white mandibles and brown eyes.

Where to find it

White-necked herons can be found in small numbers throughout the state in suitable habitat. They prefer areas with shallow freshwater (< 7 cm deep) such as flooded grassland, floodplains, rice fields, swamps, lagoons etc and can exploit small bodies of water. They are nomadic seeking out suitable habitat.
Only the nominate species, A.p. pacifica found in South Australia.