Nankeen or Rufous Night-Herons


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Nankeen or Rufous Night-Herons as they are sometimes called are often seen on Bribie Island. It is not unusual to see groups of up to 10 roosting in the cottonwood trees at Buckley’s Hole and they are sometimes spotted at Bibimulya Wetlands but are likely to turn up anywhere there is water.

Nankeen herons are chunky medium-sized, short-necked herons 55-65 cm in height, weighing 550-900 g and with a wingspan of 95-105 cm. They are mainly rufous coloured with black on top of the head, dark olive bill, white underparts, short yellow legs and a yellow eye. During the breeding season, three white nuptial plumes appear at the back of their heads. Males and females are similar in appearance with the female being slightly smaller. Juveniles are striped with rufous, black and white colourings.

As their name suggests they are mainly nocturnal and during the day roost in leafy trees near wetlands, mangroves, along riverbanks and other sites close to water. Nankeen Herons are native to Australia but are also found in PNG, the Philippines, Indonesia and many pacific islands. Most populations are sedentary but some groups are partly migratory moving to areas with more water during dry periods.

During the night, Night Herons feed along mudflats and water’s edge pouncing on insects, fish, crustaceans and small reptiles. The only time they venture out during the day for food is when they have a nest with babies to feed. Usually, nests of sticks are built-in horizontal tree forks often in colonies with other birds such as spoonbills, cormorants and other herons. Males collect the sticks and bring them to the females that arrange them into an untidy nest. Nests are built during the day and into the night. 2-5 pale blue-green eggs are laid and are incubated by both parents for 25-26 days. Both parents care for the chicks that are fed mouth to mouth and after a few days the food is regurgitated into the nest and the babies learn to feed themselves. The young leave the nest before they can fly and fledge at about 6-7 weeks. Usually, only one brood is produced per season. Nankeen Herons can breed at any time of the year but their most favoured nesting time is from October-May.

The species name Nycticorax is derived from two ancient Greek words nuktos meaning “night” and kuros meaning “raven”.

Conservation status is secure in all states except in Victoria where they are classified as vulnerable and in Tasmania where they are not present.