Species: White-bellied heron (Ardean insignis)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Interesting Fact: Also known as the imperial heron, the white-bellied heron is the second largest species of heron in the world, exceeded in size only by the Goliath heron.
The white-bellied heron is a large, long-necked species, named for its white underbelly and wing linings. It has a blackish head topped with a pale plume of feathers, and a brownish-grey body. The most outstanding feature of the white-bellied heron is its massive pointed bill, which measures about 15 to 18 cm in length.
Although primarily a solitary bird with a large territory, during the winter months the white-bellied heron may fly up to 30 kilometres to join other members of its species.
The white-bellied heron is resident in Southeast Asia, having been seen in Bangladesh and surrounding countries. It is now believed to be extinct in Nepal.
The white-bellied heron favours mature forests, a habitat that has been at risk from deforestation for over a century. It is also under threat from the fragmentation and degradation of its wetland habitats through pollution, over-exploitation of resources and the rapid growth of aquatic vegetation due to leaching of artificial fertilisers. In addition, the white-bellied heron is vulnerable to disturbance and habitat degradation as a result of agricultural expansion, human settlements and poaching, as well as overfishing.
The white-bellied heron population is extremely small, at fewer than 250 mature individuals, and is rapidly declining, putting this species at severe risk of extinction.
In May 2011, the first white-bellied heron chick to be bred in captivity hatched, as a result of a project by The Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) in Bhutan. There have been reported sightings of the white-bellied heron in protected areas of north-eastern India, and there are more protected areas proposed both in India and Bhutan which might lead to an increase in population size.
See images of the white-bellied heron on ARKive.
Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author