Eastern Reef Heron (dark morph)

spotted on Greenhill Beach, Central Queensland, Australia.

This bird does not appear in either the Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds, or Pizzey & Knight's The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia.

General consensus seems to be that this is an Eastern Reef Heron in the Dark Morph. I'm not 100% convinced, but have no other explanation.

Distinguishing features, yellow clawed feet on short feathered legs; yellowish/slate straight, long, pointed beak; sooty black plummage, slightly lighter underwing; no discernable tail or neck.

Behaviour: Perches on rocks along the shore looking for prey of some sort. Slow flapping and gliding flying technique. Glides with wings as shown in photo.

See where this picture was taken.

View all photos taken: Sunday, 6th July 2008, This photo: 1:45pm

Previous Photo: Shell by the sea
Next Photo: Bleached


  • David de Groot said:
    Here is a photo of the same sort of bird perching:
    Unknown Bird #2
  • Lushpup Images said:
    Seeing it gliding I would've thought a cormorant or egret but those feet don't fit with anything I've seen on such a bird ... that and the absence of neck!
    No high levels of ambient radon in the vicinity?
  • David de Groot said:
    Yeah the beak is wrong for a cormorant, frigatebird or albatross, and the legs seem too short for an egret. The lack of neck has me puzzled on that front too. Very odd.
  • maasha said:
    reminds me of a gannet?

    how about a noddy bird?
  • David de Groot said:
    Both Gannets and Noddy's have webbed feet and are smaller. This thing was roughly the size of a small pelican.
  • Warwick (wazzam) said:
    hhmmm - could be a Shearwater?
  • ibsut said:
    It is a reef heron - there is a grey and a white form
  • Warwick (wazzam) said:
    I dismissed Herons and Egrets because this thing of Dave's has no neck. Don't Egrets have long necks?
  • David de Groot said:
    Nah a sheerwater has a curved beak and nostril tubes.
    Nope, it's got no long neck and the legs are too short.
    I got a picture of a reef heron while there (the white variant).
  • leadegroot said:
    Clearly a mutant bird - I'm with the radon theory ;).
    But, seriously, I think its a non-Australian bird that has gotten lost. (It would be a better explanation if there weren't two of them...)
    (Reminds me of the bird-people-who-cannot touch-the-ground in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker series. ;) )
  • Warwick (wazzam) said:
    leadegroot wrote
    I think its a non-Australian bird that has gotten lost.

    I was thinking the same thing...maybe from New Zulland :)
  • Pete Mella said:
    All herons, egrets and bitterns. fly with their necks retracted exactly like this. I'd say this is 90% definitely a heron of some kind, but I don't know that part of the world to give an id beyond that.
    The perched shot is very peculiar, and suggests a short-necked species such as the bitterns.
    EDIT - or the perched pic is an optical illusion, as the bird still has its neck partly retracted and is looking straight on.
  • David de Groot said:
    But it sat on the rock with it's neck (if it has one) retracted too. I saw four of these in various poses, flying/non-flying and at no point was the neck any longer than this - that's what really has me stumped (and the very short legs and lack of tail). It's an oddity.
    I was sure it was some sort of heron too, but couldn't find anything that matched.
  • Pete Mella said:
    Must admit the more I look at it the more the perched shot is a stumper - the flight shot is 100% heron to me, but the perched shot looks very different. Like I say, not big on Australian birds for an alternative.
  • Pete Mella said:
    Try posting in this group too www.flickr.com/groups/79514222@N00/ btw
  • David de Groot said:
    Yeah it's a stumper. If we don't get anywhere in the next few days, I'll forward it on to the Queensland Museum and see if one of their people know it.
  • Pete Mella said:
    Just looked at the lists of Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinean herons and none of them seem to match this one! Eastern Reef Egret is the closest match colour-wise, but appears too slender and obviously would have its neck out at rest. Which leads me to three conclusions
    1) It's not a heron at all.
    2) It's a heron from somewhere a long way off.
    3) It's some kind of mutant - maybe a melanic form of one of the short-necked herons such as one of the night herons?
    Add a fourth option
    4) I don't know what I'm talking about and shouldn't be commenting on birds that live nearly ten thousand miles away ;)
  • David de Groot said:
    Oddly enough, option #3 has been bandied around quite a bit by all those that saw it. ;-)
  • David de Groot said:
    Another in-flight photo:
    Unknown Bird #3
  • Buckeye. said:
    It's a reef heron. Perfectly normal.
  • palmchat said:
    yes, as Buckeye suggest, it's a perfectly normal Reef Heron (Eastern I presume). As Pete Mella suggested, herons and egretts fold their necks back while in flight, and if the so feel while sitting.
  • Pete Mella said:
    Goes to show, birds can alter the way they look from "field guide" style photos... the pictures I saw of reef heron looked very different to this in stature, but it's all about the stance I suppose.
  • David de Groot said:
    Well I'm still not 100% convinced but I'll go with the flow and label it suchly. The feathered legs, the lack of white streak at the throat and the stance (at no time did any of the 4 birds I saw extend it's neck beyond what you see here or stand anything like a heron - always upright like on the second photo) all bother me somewhat.
  • petepothole said:
    Those woolongong Blokes Have the books for these Birds!
    Either Richard Yorrick or his Brother Mick ! Deadheading.