Overview

Distribution

The range of Ardea goliath stretches throughout Africa, from Southern Egypt into South Africa. There are also populations reported in various patches of habitat in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native )

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Range

Locally in Africa, Iraq and Iran; casual to India and Sri Lanka.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Physical Description

Morphology

Ardea goliath is grayish-purple in color, with rufous or chestnut markings on its elongated neck, head and breast. It bears resemblance to its close relatives, purple herons (Ardea purpurea), but lacks distinctive black markings on its face and neck. It is also distinguished by its enormous size. At 1.5 m in length and 4.5 kg in mass, goliath herons are the largest of all living herons. They have a wingspan of 2 m.

Females are slightly smaller than males. Juveniles have more rufous, mottled breasts and bellies, and less distinct stripes.

In terms of systematics, goliath herons are most closely related to Sumatran herons (Ardea sumatrana) and white-bellied herons (Ardea insignis) of Southeast Asia.

Range mass: 4.3 to 4.5 kg.

Range length: 1.2 to 1.5 m.

Average wingspan: 2 m.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Diagnostic Description

Description

Length: 120-152 cm. Plumage: grey back; chestnut head, neck and belly; foreneck and breast white streaked black. Immature brownish grey above, paler chestnut below with streaking obscure. Bare parts: iris yellow; lores and eye-ring greenish yellow; bill very large, black above, horn below; feet and legs black. Habitat: estuaries and inland waters. <388><393><391>
translation missing: en.license_cc_by_4_0

© WoRMS for SMEBD

Source: World Register of Marine Species

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour This species is not migratory but may make local dispersive or nomadic movements in response to seasonal habitat changes (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding usually coincides with the start of the rains although in some areas the species breed in any month of the year (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) or only when conditions are most favourable (i.e. not every year) (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It is not a gregarious species (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and usually nests and forages in solitary pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Occasionally it may also nest in small single- or mixed-species colonies (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and has been known to forage in larger flocks (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Habitat The species inhabits both coastal and inland (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) freshwater and saline waters (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005), showing a preference for (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) shallow water along the shores of lakes, rivers (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kushlan and Hancock 2005) and lagoons (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Other suitable habitats include marshes, tidal estuaries, reefs, mangrove creeks (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and waterholes in woodland savanna (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). The species often forages away from the shore in deep water near floating vegetation (Kushlan and Hancock 2005). Diet Its diet consists predominantly of large fish 15-50 cm long although it will also take frogs, lizards, snakes, rodents, crabs, prawns and floating carrion (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding site The nest is a platform of sticks or reeds (del Hoyo et al. 1992) placed less than 3 m high in trees over water, on partly submerged trees, low bushes, mangroves, cliffs, sedges, papyrus, reeds (del Hoyo et al. 1992) or on bare ground (Kushlan and Hancock 2005), showing a preference for nest sites that are surrounded by water (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. islands or islands of vegetation in lakes) (Kushlan and Hancock 2005) but also utilising on riverbanks and lakeshores (Kushlan and Hancock 2005).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Ardea goliath lives in large rivers, lakes, estuaries, swamps, marshes, and other freshwater and shallow saltwater habitats. It prefers areas with large fish to support its feeding habits. It has been observed at elevations of up to 2100 m.

Range elevation: 2100 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams; temporary pools; coastal ; brackish water

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

Other Habitat Features: riparian ; estuarine

  • Mock, D., K. Mock. 1980. Feeding Behavior and Ecology of the Goliath Heron. The Auk, 97(3): 433-448. Accessed July 25, 2009 at http://www.jstor.org/pss/4085837.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Trophic Strategy

Ardea goliath opportunistically feeds on a variety of prey items, from carrion to amphibians, but prefers fish.

Ardea goliath typically feeds upon large fish, employing what scientists call a “Jackpot” strategy: goliath herons seem to pass up numerous opportunities to eat smaller fish in a gamble to not disturb the water and thereby be able to catch large ones. According to a 1980 study on feeding ecology, the average size of prey caught was around 30 cm, with only very few catches of prey less than 15 cm in length.

Feeding ecology influences many aspects of the behavior of Ardea goliath. Goliath herons typically land directly on mats of vegetation when possible, to reduce disturbance to the water. Mats of vegetation also frequently attract fish by providing food, and reduce other disturbance in the water so that it may be easier for goliath herons to detect subtle commotion caused by large fish swimming nearby.

Animal Foods: mammals; amphibians; reptiles; fish; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore )

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Associations

Ardea goliath plays a role as a dominant predator of large fishes in the areas in which it lives, as it has few natural predators of its own. It is affected by many typical ectoparasites and endoparasites, including disease-causing viruses and bacteria, and digestive tract worms.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Bird lice (Order Phthiraptera)
  • Flat worms (Phyla Platyhelminthes)
  • Viruses and bacteria

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Goliath herons have few natural predators due to their large size, watery habitat and ability to fly away from any ground- or water-dwelling predators. Some birds of prey, such as African fish eagles, may hunt juveniles or chicks, but as full-grown adults the risk of predation is low due to their large size.

Known Predators:

  • African fish eagles (Haliaeetus vocifer)

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Goliath herons use primarily loud squawks to communicate. They attempt to detect prey mainly with vision. Their squawks vary greatly and include, from a “Kowoork” under normal circumstances, an “Arrk” in response to a disturbance, a “Kroo” and “Huh-huh” during stretching, and an “organ-like dueting”. The dueting is thought to be important for communication between members of a mating pair at the nest. Their sense of smell is relatively undeveloped and not relied upon by goliath herons. Like all birds, goliath herons perceive their environment through visual, auditory, tactile and chemical stimuli.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Other Communication Modes: duets

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life Expectancy

One account of Ardea goliath reports a maximum age of 22.9 years in captivity. Similar birds in the wild reach around 15 years of age at the oldest.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
22.9 (high) years.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 22.9 years (captivity)
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Joao Pedro de Magalhaes

Source: AnAge

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Reproduction

Ardea goliath typically forms monogamous mating pairs, in which both parents together guard the nest and raise chicks.

Little is known about the mating rituals of goliath herons, as observations of the rituals are not reported in the literature. It is known that the plumage becomes brighter during mating season, and a special dueting song occurs during the mating season. It is thought that observations of mating rituals may be absent because the birds re-pair with the same mates year after year, and therefore have little need to win over a new mate with a ritual.

Mating System: monogamous

The breeding season and interval varies with location of individual populations of Ardea goliath. The breeding season most commonly occurs with the start of the rainy season. However, in some places, breeding occurs year-round; in others, such as South Africa, breeding occurs biannually or less frequently.

Nests are constructed of sticks and twigs. The nests are at least 1 meter in diameter, and are typically found on islands in low vegetation (below 3 meters). Goliath herons sometimes nest with other birds in mixed rookeries, and sometimes solitarily. There have been some reports of birds abandoning nest sites when islands became a part of the mainland, which raises conservation concern for Ardea goliath, as preserving nesting sites is imperative to ensuring the species’ future.

Goliath herons lay a clutch of 2 to 5 eggs. The young hatch after an incubation period of 24 to 30 days.

Breeding interval: Goliath herons generally breed once annually.

Breeding season: The breeding season for goliath herons typically coincides with the rainy season.

Range eggs per season: 2 to 5.

Average eggs per season: 3-4.

Range time to hatching: 24 to 30 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Like most birds, both parents of Ardea goliath play active roles in raising chicks up to fledging. A typical clutch includes three or four pale blue eggs, of which typically no more than one or two chicks survive. Chicks are born altricial, with downy feathers and eyes closed. After 25-30 days of incubation, chicks are fed twice-daily through regurgitation by the parents. After five weeks in the nest, chicks leave but are still cared for by their parents for an adjusting period of 40 to 80 days.

Sibling rivalry and siblicide is common in many birds, and goliath herons are no exception. Competition within the nest makes chick survival difficult, and only 1-2 birds reach independence out of each clutch of 2-5 eggs.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ardea goliath

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Barcode of Life Data Systems

Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size may be moderately small to large, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5