Great-billed Heron.jpg
Great-billed Heron, Katherine George, Northern Territory.

Scientific name: Ardea sumatrana Raffles, 1822

Primary common name: Great-billed Heron

Other common names:
Alligatorbird, Sumatran Heron, Dusky-grey Heron, Giant Heron, Bull-bittern

Synonyms: None

In Latin, ardea means ‘heron’
This species was first described from specimens from Sumatra

Locally moderately common

Conservation status:
Least Concern
Great-billed Heron E12109.jpg
Great-billed Heron clutch

Large grey-brown heron with stout, dark-brown bill. Found in coastal and sub-coastal wetlands.

Field identification:

Length 100 – 110 cm, Weight 1.3 – 2.6 kg.
Monotypic (no recognised sub-species)

Grey-brown to purplish-brown above, chin and throat white, grading to grey-brown on the upper neck. Neck, breast and belly light brownish grey or purplish grey with slight white streaking. Bill is large, black above and dark grey below. Yellow facial skin (lores) that changes to grey in breeding season. Iris yellow. Plumage changes seasonally, breeding plumage includes silvery plumes on the neck, back of the head (nuchal crest) and on the back. Legs are dark grey with pinkish-yellow feet. Sexes similar.

Rusty brown with a brown bill. Chin and throat white with grey streaking. Breast reddish-brown and belly pale brown. No plumes as in breeding adult.

Coastal and sub-coastal regions of Southeast Asia from Burma, and southern Vietnam to New Guinea. In Australia found on and near the coast from Broome in WA to Broad Sound just south of Mackay in Queensland. Recorded inland up to 300 km in the Top End, NT.

Found in tall, dense mangroves, mangrove-overhung creeks and rivers, estuaries, tidal mudflats and terrestrial wetlands, particularly permanent wetlands associated with dense forest.

Behaviour and Ecology:
Shy and elusive, easily disturbed. Forages on muddy shores and shallow water. Preference for soft mud flooded regularly by tides and bordered by mangroves. Wades in water with slow deliberate steps, occasionally stabbing at fish. Also known to eat reptiles. Roosts in mangroves. Avoids open situations such as floodplains. Pairs occupy permanent territories.

Nest is a large concave platform of sticks 1.2 – 1.3 m wide usually built on a horizontal limb of a spreading mangrove. Clutch is one to two oval eggs, smooth, matt and pale blue to light bluish-green.

Roaring call in the breeding season, likened to an angry bull, also said to make a harsh croak.

Similar species:
None in Australia

Associated species:
Lives in: Avicennia , Rhizophora , Bruguiera

Feeds on:

Australian Faunal Directory:
Great Billed Heron (Ardea sumatrana) Photo Gallery by cajuca (Mark Chua)

Unless otherwise referenced, the information in this profile has been sourced from [1], [2] and [3].

Related references:
[4], [5], [6], [7]


  1. Marchant, S. and Higgins, P.J. (eds.) (1990). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds, Volume 1 Ratites to Ducks. Oxford University Press, Melbourne. (more)
  2. Johnstone, R.E. and Storr, G.M. (1998a). Handbook of Western Australian Birds: Volume 1 Non-passerines (Emu to Dollarbird) . Western Australia Museum. 436 pages. (more)
  3. Christidis, L. and Boles, W.E. (2008). Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds . CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne. (more)
  4. Morton, S.R., Brennan, K.G. and Armstrong, M.D. (1993). Distribution and abundance of herons, egrets, ibises and spoonbills in the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory. Wildl. Res. 20(1): 23-43. Available online: (more)
  5. Cooney, S.J.N., Watson, D.M. and Young, J. (2006). Mistletoe nesting in Australian birds: a review. Emu 106: 1-12. Available online: (more)
  6. Lansdown, R.V. (1989). Displays of the Sumatran Heron Ardea sumatrana. Colonial Waterbirds 12(1): 113-114. Available online: (more)
  7. Sheldon, F.H. (1987). Phylogeny of herons estimated from DNA-DNA hybridization data. The Auk. 104(1): 97-108. Available online: (more)

-- AngelaFrost - 2009-06-16