Reef heron Egretta sacra sacra


  • Reef herons are dark, slaty grey herons, darker than the paler white-faced heron.
  • Reef herons stand approximately 66 cm tall and have a wing span of up to 110 cm.
  • They have a distinctive feeding stance which is hunched up and almost horizontal.

Interesting Facts

  • Reef herons are found throughout Asia, the Pacific and Australasia.
  • Reef herons are solitary nesters and will breed in caves or crevices of cliffs, under vegetation on clif faces, and sometimes amongst pohutukawa tree roots.
  • In New Zealand, reef herons are extremely rare; the entire New Zealand population is estimated at 300-500 individuals. However, the species is considered stable.
  • Pairs may nest kilometres apart, and are vulnerable to disturbance from people and their dogs.
  • It is not known whether the eggs and chicks of reef heron are taken by introduced predators, but they may be vulnerable given they often nest near the ground.
  • The species is very unusual in that it has two distinct colour morphs: the charcoal gray morph seen in New Zealand, and a white morph common in the Pacific Islands.

Association with Plantations

  • Coastal forests may have coastal birds on forest margins.


  • Human disturbance including vehicle and foot damage to nests and general interference.
  • Predation, especially during nesting by mammal pests and gulls.
  • Invasive plants like marram grass, lupins and wilding pines, can degrade nesting areas.

Management Options and Methods

  • Minimise disturbance to nesting sites.
  • Consider restricting or minimising vehicle access to important nesting sites.
  • Consider removing invasive plants from dunes.
  • Work with local community groups, DOC and councils to improve overall protection of important nesting sites. This could include community education, plant and animal pest control, and roping off of nesting areas and appropriate signage.
  • Injured or dead coastal birds (all species):
    • Place injured birds in a cardboard box in the shade and deliver to a local vet, SPCA, or DOC.
    • Call DOC if bird is banded.

Monitoring Options

  • Increase staff and contractor knowledge about coastal birds.
  • Consider monitoring important nesting sites. This could include bird counts and chick survival rates.

Further Information and Support

  • New Zealand Birds Online website.
  • Heather and Robertson (2000). The field guide to the birds of New Zealand.
  • Pest management: DOC, Regional Councils.
  • Local community initiatives: NZ Landcare Trust.