Scientifically referred to Ardea goliath, the Goliath heron is one of the outstanding bird species normally encountered on birding safaris in Uganda.
It is a giant wading bird species belonging to Ardeidae – a family of herons and thrives greatly in sub Saharan Africa including Uganda where it is explored on Uganda safari tours and also in Southwest and South Asia though in small numbers.
The Goliath heron is recorded as the world’s largest heron stretching 120 – 152cm in height, weighing 4 – 5kg and with a wing span of 185 – 230cm. Its bill measures about 24cm from the gape. It features a slow flight with a heavier presentation compared to other herons and its legs are not horizontally stretched.
The male and female have no difference in appearance and they are both marked with slate gray and chest nut feathers, bushy crest on the head, white chin, throat, upper breast and fore neck. The black streaks are visible across the upper breast and the foreneck. The eyes of Goliath heron are yellow while the feet are black as often explored while on Uganda birding safaris and tours.
The Goliath heron is an aquatic bird species and thus thrives close to water points and even prefers flying along the water ways other than land. The main dwelling areas include; swamps and mangrove wetlands, lakes, reefs with little cool water and at times in river deltas. They forage in the same areas waiting patiently for prey and often dipping its bill under water to attract fish which it then swallows as a whole. Unfortunately, the Goliath herons feature an extended handling time and at times end up losing their prey to other birds like African fish eagle, pelicans and saddle-billed storks. The major food sources of herons include; fish, prawns, frogs, lizards, insects, snakes, among others.
The breeding of Goliath Heron occurs normally at the beginning of the rainy season though it can be all year round in some areas. They lay 2 – 5 pale blue eggs and incubation lasts 24 – 30 days.
Travelers on Safaris in Uganda have chances of viewing the Goliath heron along the swamps of Lake Victoria including Mabamba, the banks of River Nile in Murchison Falls National Park Uganda among other areas.
As regards conservation, the Goliath heron is listed as species of Least Concern on the red list of International Union for Conservation of Nature.