A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Nankeen night heron
— also called
Rufous night heron

Nicticorax caledonicus
55-65 centimetres (22-26 inches)

Medium-large water bird with reddish-brown wings and lighter brown to buff breast. Has black crown on head, yellow legs, and wide-toed yellow feet. Head is large and neck is short, giving a hunched appearance.

Generally nocturnal, although it is likely to be seen in overcast weather or snoozing during the day hunched up on a tree branch overhanging water. Often rests during day in dense waterside vegetation.

Young rufous night herons have dark streaks running from their face down their body, with white spots on their wings. They are sometimes confused with bitterns, although the night herons are more rufous brown whereas the bitterns are yellow-brown.

Shy, wary, skittish. Associates well with egrets, but likes to keep its distance from humans.

Using our photos

Photos on this website are copyright. If you want to use any, email us at: creeklife@gmail.com

Ruth's photos

Ruth was difficult to photograph because she is primarily a night bird. Most people who walk around Calamvale Creek don't even know she is there.

The photographer said:
“Catching a glimpse of Ruth was hard enough, but getting a photograph of her took some time.

“It took me several weeks to work out what she was. I first saw her sleeping high in a tree overhanging the creek in the late morning. All I could make out was that it was a largish brown bird.

“Over the next couple of weeks I accidentally disturbed her twice and caught a momentary glimpse of her as she quickly flew to shelter. I could see her legs stretched back in flight like a heron and suspected she was a nankeen night heron.

“It was a couple of weeks later that I finally saw her early one morning sitting on a branch in an isolated pocket of the creeek and got the photos on this page.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Ruth the rufous night heron

Also known as a nankeen night heron

Nicticorax caledonicus

night_heron1 (17K)I am Ruth the rufous night heron.

Some people think I'm anti-social, but it's just that I'm more of a night bird, so you won't often see me around the creek during the day.

If you happen to disturb me while I'm sleeping I will let out a loud skowk sound to try to scare you off.

As that doesn't always work, I will also hightail it to a safer place away from you.

How did I get my name?

night_heron2 (18K) I am commonly known as both a nankeen night heron and a rufous night heron. Nankeen is a durable brownish yellow cotton fabric originally hand-loomed in China. My breast colour is something like that original cloth.

Nankeen was named after the Chinese city of Nanking, where nankeen cloth was first made.

Rufous means reddish brown, or a sort of reddish-cinnamon colour. That too is close to my colour, so both names fit.

Where do I sleep and live?

night_heron4 (51K)

Can you see me in the middle of the photo above standing on a dead branch? That's one of my resting spots at night before I heard off to find food. All the bottom part of the photo, under the dead branches, is water covered with vegetation, so no one can reach me easily. You won't often see there during the day though. This is a rare photo of me.

I sleep and roost either in the isolated shallows of the creek, often hidden by high grasses, or fairly high up in a tree overhanging the water near the cormorants' resting spot.

What do I eat?

night_heron3 (19K)I feed on insects, tadpoles, fish, frogs, and crustaceans. I mostly feed at night, standing in the shallows searching for prey, which I swoop up with my strong bill.

Although I am called a night heron, and I do like to go out at night, you may see me in the early morning, or all day during rainy weather. The rain stirs up the prey I like, so I will forgo my day naps if it means I can get a feast of yummy food.

— Ruth the rufous night heron