“Between March to May 2013, regular monitoring of a small flock of Chinese Pond-herons (Ardeola bacchus) in Singapore enabled me to witness their gradual plumage transition from non-breeding to breeding. When they are at rest or on the lookout, they may be perched high up on the branches of trees (above, non-breeding plumage).
“Most of the time, they would be on the ground amongst the grass, very much engrossed in the need to feed (above, non-breeding plumage).
“The onset of breeding plumage was first noticed in April, when reddish-brown feathers began to appear on the head and neck, just as black feathers began to sprout on its back. This intermediate plumage made the pond-heron look rather awkward, just like an adolescent prior to full adulthood (above, below).
“Eventually, when full breeding plumage is attained, all traces of grayish feathers from yesteryear are no more. A blanket of fine, black feathers cascades over its untainted white wings, while its head, neck and breast are adorned with rich reddish-brown. Finally, a fashion accessory which added the finishing touch to its breeding splendour is a stylish, pinkish nape plume (below).
“Vanity, however, cannot take precedence over energy demands and nutritional needs. It was most amusing to watch the foraging and feeding antics of the Pond Heron. At times, its neck would be fully extended and upright, just like a giraffe strolling across the savannah (below).
“In contrast, its neck could also be completely retracted, as it crouches like a leopard in ambush among the bushes (below).
Dr. Leong Tzi Ming
22nd May 2013