The Purple Heron is similar to the Grey Heron only that it is smaller and with rusty shades. It measures 80-90 cm in length, 140-145 cm in wingspan, and 600-1400 g in weight. It has weakly pronounced sexual dimorphism and its plumage is mostly in grey and rusty shades. The Purple Heron flies slowly with retracted neck. Its longevity is 25 years.

The Purple Heron is a quiet bird and its call in flight resembles that of the Grey Heron only that it is more high-pitched. When it is threatened, like other herons, it stands with its bill and neck stretched upwards. When standing like that among the reed and bulrush, it is very difficult to be spotted.

Distribution and Habitat

The Purple Heron is an Indo-African species which breeds on the Pyrenees, in France, Germany, Italy, the Balkan Peninsula, Russia, Kazakhstan, Hindustan, Indochina, Indonesia, Mozambique, Angola, Madagascar. It stays in Europe only for the breeding period. It flies to Europe in April and flies away in September to winter in Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Africa- south of the Sahara desert, Madagascar, Hindustan, Southeast Asia.

The Purple Heron inhabits open freshwater basins with dense swamp plantations of reed and bulrush, oak forests near river coasts in valleys, mostly in areas up to 300 m above sea level. All the areas however are close to vast water basins.

In Bulgaria the Purple Heron is a migratory and breeding species. In the last several years it has bred mostly in swamps and lakes on the Danube river and Black Sea coast (Vaya lake, Atanasovsko lake, Srebarna lake, Durankulak lake, Alepu swamp, Poda area), in the Sofia Plain and the coastal areas of Maritsa river, Tundzha river and Struma river).


The Purple Heron feeds mostly on fish, which even when it is relatively big, can be easily swallowed. It also feeds on snakes, mice, insects, amphibians, eggs, remains of dead animals, toads, and poisonous frogs.

Like the Grey Heron, when it stalks its prey, it moves slowly and frequently freezes. However, they occupy different food niches and there is no competition between them.


The Purple Heron rarely nests on its own and usually forms colonies. It builds its nest on bulrush or strong reed sometimes up to 2 m high. It is surprising how the fragile bulrush can maintain the relatively big and heavy nest with all the birds in it. The Purple Heron rarely builds its nest on trees but as an exception it can be at the height of the Grey Heron. It is build by both parents and while building it and after that during the incubation, they perform various complicated rituals. If the nest is damaged during the incubation or raising of the chicks, they repair it. At first the nest is concave in shape and at the end of breeding it becomes flat. The Purple Heron lays from 3 to 8 eggs, 55 mm in length and light blue in color. The incubation is from 24 to 28 days and both parents take part in it. It begins right after the first egg is laid. In order to ask for food, the chicks pull towards them the parent’s bill. It may look as if they were fighting but this is a very characteristic ritual for Herons. The parents bring them food in their throats. The chicks leave the nest around their 45th-50th day.

Conservation Status

According to IUCN its status is Least Concern, but in Bulgaria according to the Red Data Book it is Endangered.


Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)