The Squacco Heron

Ardeola ralloides (Scopoli, 1769)

Ardea comata: Radakoff, 1879: 173; Buphus comatus: Hristovich, 1890: 218; Ardea ralloides: Reiser, 1894: 150.

Order Ciconiiformes

Family Ardeidae

Conservation status: in Bulgaria: Endangered EN=[B1a+B2a+D], BDA-II, III; International: CITES-III, BeC-II, BoC-II.

General distribution. An Ethiopian species whose breeding area embraces Northern Africa, Central Asia and Asia Minor and Europe (Spain, Portugal, Southern France, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Greece, Bulgaria). It winters in the Persian Gulf and Africa. The total numbers in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean are 21 000 38 000 breeding pairs [1].

Distribution and abundance in Bulgaria. A breeding summer visitor. Until the middle of the 20th century, there were known nest habitats only along the Danube valley and probably in the region of Sofia; later it was registered breeding also along the Black Sea coast and the valleys of the rivers Maritsa, Syutliyka and Tundzha [2]. In recent years it has been registered breeding along the banks of the Danube (6 certain habitats), in the Danube valley (4 certain habitats), the Burgas lakes, around the city of Plovdiv (3 certain habitats) [3] and in a marsh to the east of Sofia [4]. The total numbers in the country are estimated at 2 000 2 500 [2], 500 1 000 [5], 200-300 [6], 300-650 [3], which shows a stable tendency for a severalfold decrease of the breeding population in Bulgaria.

Habitats. Freshwater lakes and marshes, reservoirs and microreservoirs, fish farms, flooded forests. During migrations it is also found in shore brackish water basins, reservoirs, irrigation canals.

Biology. It incubates only in mixed colonies of egrets, glossy ibisses, spoonbills and Pygmy cormorants. The nests are located in reed or on willows and poplars. It breeds 4-5 young ones that start flying from the beginning of July. It feeds on small fish, frogs, water insects.

Similar species. The cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis).

Negative factors. In the past it was shot down as a pest (in the 1950s); at present no such factors are known; probably the drying up and the degradation of the wetlands.

Conservation measures taken. Protected according to the Biological Diversity Act. The major breeding places are in protected territories.

Conservation measures needed. Preparation of a National Plan for the preservation of the species and its enforcement.

References. 1. Wetlands International, 2002; 2. Simeonov et al., 1989; 3. BSPB, in press; 4. Delov, 1993; 5. Kostadinova, 1997, 6. Nankinov et al., 2004.

Author: Tanyo Michev

Squacco Heron (distribution map)

Squacco Heron (drawing)