White-necked Heron, Ardea pacifica Click to enlarge image
White-necked Heron, Ardea pacifica Image: Purnell Collection
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • IUCN Conservation Status
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    76 cm to 106 cm

Like other herons, the White-necked Heron has a special hinge mechanism at the sixth vertebra that allows them to rapidly extend their folded neck and so catch unwary prey.

What do White-necked Herons look like?


The White-necked Heron is a large heron with a white head and a long white neck with a double line of black spots running down the front. The upperparts of the body are slate-black, with plum-coloured nuptial plumes on the back and breast during the breeding season. Underparts are grey streaked with white. The bill is black, the naked facial skin is blue or yellow, the eyes are green, and the legs and feet are black. The White-necked Heron is sometimes known as the Pacific Heron.

Where do White-necked Herons live?


Although White-necked Herons are sometimes seen in tidal areas, most are found in shallow fresh waters, including farm dams, flooded pastures, claypans, and even roadside ditches.


The White-necked Heron is distributed throughout mainland Australia, inhabiting mainly fresh water wetlands.

What do White-necked Herons eat and how do they communicate?

Feeding and diet

White-necked Herons feed by wading in shallow water or stalking through wet grass looking for fish, amphibians, crustaceans and insects.


A loud croak is uttered as an alarm call. Other gutteral calls are uttered at the nest.

What are White-necked Herons breeding behaviours?

Breeding Behaviour/s

White-necked Herons will breed in any month of the year in response to good rain, but most breeding occurs between September and December. The nest is a loose platform in a living tree such as a river red gum near or over water. The nests may be solitary or in loose colonies. Eggs are incubated by both parents.

Breeding Season: Mainly September to December.


White-necked Herons have regular winter or spring movements in many areas, but little is known of their patterns of movement.

Economic/social impacts

Farm dams and irrigation and drainage ditches provide feeding habitat for White-necked Herons, but drainage of swamps and diversion on natural river flows disrupts breeding activity.