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Their rather squat, ugly looking heron transforms when the sun comes out and lights it up, bathing its brilliant, blue-white tail and wings in a lustrous glow

It is very peculiar to see, often at the exact same time every single day, a slimy looking, a medium to largish bird, sitting on, or in, a greasy puddle of water that is hard to describe as an actual ‘pond’. But, even in Karachi where water has entered empty building plots and the like, this bird is a reasonably common sight.

The ‘pond heron’ or ardeola grayii to give this character its correct ornithological title, is found all over Sindh and Punjab, plus, in coastal regions of Balochistan. But its only northern ‘holiday’ is in the Swat Valley as it isn’t keen on mountainous areas at all and most certainly not during the winter months.

With a wingspan of 75–90cm, a body length of between 42–45cm on average, including a bill length of approximately 25cm, this is a rather squat, ugly looking heron of what appears, on a cloudy or overcast day, to be a dirty, brownish green. But when the sun comes out and lights it up — wow — what a transformation as its brilliant, blue-white tail and wigs suddenly take on a lustrous, very impressive, glow.

Quite often seen as a ‘loner’, when it mates, it mates for life and while the happy couple enjoy their privacy when it comes to nest building time they do, sometimes, decide to nest fairly close to other members of the same species or, for a change, on the outskirts of another species heronry altogether.

These scruffy birds — largely the result of accumulated pond slime on their chests — are equally untidy in their nest building habits. The male forages for twigs, small branches, dried grass and other convenient nest building material and the female kind of wedges everything together, very haphazardly, in the fork of a tree which is, preferably but not always, way above the ground and well out of reach of four-legged predators such as prowling, hungry cats of the wild kind.

The female lays a clutch of between four and six eggs, sometime from April through to the end of the summer monsoon, all depending on which region of the country they are in. The beautiful, pale blue eggs are tended by both the male and female birds who take turns sitting on them and, when the chicks hatch, both parents ensure that they are kept as well fed as possible.

Pond herons live on a fairly mixed diet of small fish, crustaceans, frogs, tadpoles and appear to enjoy some kinds of pond weed with the occasional ground based vegetation for good measure.

Hunting both day and night, pond herons are usually silent birds unless, that is, they are disturbed when they are capable of making quite a racket which sounds, in many respects, as if someone is battering a bucket with a tin spoon!



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