Saturday 2 October 2010

Mystery heron starts to reveal its secrets

I returned to Ain Azziana on Friday (yesterday) and was very pleased to see that the mystery heron was still there one week after I first saw it.  The even better news is that I got several better photographs including a number of the bird in flight.

In the last week since first seeing the bird I asked both the yahoo Egyptian birding group and the yahoo African Bird Club for help with the identification. I have also corresponded with a small number of individuals.

new side on view of the mystery dark heron, October 1st

Three birds have been proposed - all are hybrids. Two are known hybrids are
 grey heron/purple heron hybrid
 grey heron/black headed heron hybrid 

However the bravest call has been from an expert (in personal correspondence) from a leading UK bird magazine who has tentatively suggested it is a previously unrecorded black-headed heron/purple heron hybrid.  

All the above calls have been based on my previous pictures which were all side-on shots. My latest view of this (unique?) bird has led me to support the radical call of a black headed heron/purple heron hybrid!  But I really need help more than ever because this call is so radical.

another new side on picture of the dark heron

But now I have photographs of the bird in flight and also better photos of the bird side-on.

new picture of dark heron, October 1st

I have seen more clearly that the birds folded wings are slightly lighter than its neck. They are actually a little metallic looking. They are are slightly metallic grey or grey-purple or even dark green from a certain angle and light.

The feet are yellow and the legs you can see are darker. There is quite a bit of contrast between the feet and the legs.

flight picture of the dark heron, October 1st

Note the main feature of the top view in flight is of two colours in a overall pattern like grey and purple heron.

another view in flight

It is in flight where I could see the most contrast between the leg colour and the feet colour.

picture in flight showing the birds underside

I want to say some thing more about the birds behaviour. last time I said it was not interacting with the flock of grey heron on the same wetland. This time I will go further. There was a squabble when a grey heron landed near the bird and the grey heron re-treated. It also did not interact with the cattle egret. However it did fly at times with the small number of little egret present. One other feature I noticed is that the bird seems not to like as deep water as the grey heron. 

dark heron leading a little egret in flight.

Am I now very close to knowing definitely what this bird is?


  1. Oiled Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)... :(

    Best regards,


  2. I have to say oil was my first thought as well, looking at these...

  3. Thanks for the comments. Several people have said it looks like an oiled bird but equally several have said it "certainly" isn't. The argument goes that it as healthy and lively as it was last week. I personally didn't think about oil at any time while I was with it.

    The most common view is now leaning to a melanistic bird with oiled a close second.

    Interestingly the African birders have been more likely to say its melanistic than the European birders.

  4. Rob,
    I still think that it is an oil stained bird probably a Grey Heron that was engulfed when standing downwind of an oil smoke plume, presumably whilst it was huddle-perched on the ground - hence the appearent 'patterning'. We saw lots and lots of birds of many species droplet-stained just like this during the massive oil fires of the "First Gulf War" in 1991. Note also the rather greasy look to many of the longer body feathers, especially underneath.
    James in Arusha

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  6. First I was convince that it was an oiled heron but since I saw this image:
    I think it's impossible to argue with this photo quality. The texture of feather are impossible to distinguish.

    1. This is a link to my website where there is a photo of thie bird
      This is a photo taken by me in Israel of the same/similar bird
      I have a lot of shots of the bird. What do you think

  7. Hi,
    This is exactly what we saw at azraq wetland reserve two weeks ago 2019. This is the same bird. It stayed 1 hour and left. I had many pictures for it and video. So what are explanations?? I asked many birders and their answers were oiled Grey heron!!

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    2. black-headed heron/purple heron hybrid
      I have plenty as well .this is an answer someone recieved a while ago