The White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) is a medium-sized heron, whose colour is a pale, almost bluish-grey, with white facial markings and yellowish legs.

Quite a common bird throughout most of Australasia, including New Guinea, the Islands of Torres Strait, Indonesia and New Zealand. It is also seen in the arid heart of Australia, especially where there are waterholes and other shallow water resources.

They are certainly seen in different wetland habitats, from the coastline reefs, rock pools and mudflats, as well as estuaries and saltmarsh, rivers and waterholes, sewerage ponds, and farm dams.

They usually forage for a range of aquatic prey. It is one of those birds that have been known to help themselves to fishes from suburban fish ponds.

The White-faced Heron will breed outside their normal breeding season in response to rainfall. They both share the role of building the nest, incubation the eggs and caring for the young. The nest itself is an untidy structure of sticks that are placed in a tree.

During breeding, the White-faced Heron have long feathers (nuptial plumes) on the head, neck and back. They often have a reddish colour on the underparts. The young White-faced Herons are similar to the non-breeding adults (that is they have no nuptial plumes), but are duller in colour, with little or no white on the face.

Common name
White-faced Heron, White-fronted Heron and sometimes mistakenly called the Blue Heron (the Great Blue Heron refers to species Ardea herodias) and the Grey Heron (refers to species Ardea cinerea). Kuukuup wuuchu is the name of the heron by the Aboriginal people of the volcanic plains of central Victoria.

Aboriginal Connection

This story is from the Djab wurrung People (also spelt Djabwurung, Tjapwurrung, Tjap Wurrung, or Djapwarrung) from the from the volcanic plains region of central Victoria, have the Kuukuup Wuuchu (the Blue Heron).

Once a long long time ago, there was a murt ngeeang (a greedy person with a big mouth). His tribe was camped under a red gum tree near Dunkeld. This murt ngeeang and the other families caught freshwater fish to eat.

They were all eating freshwater fish.

In the murt ngeeang’s tribe, food had to be shared, but the murt ngeeang was not happy with this, as he did not like sharing.

He did not get to eat all of the fish that he had caught. The murt ngeeang took the form of a Kuukuup Wuuchu (“blue heron”).

The Kuukuup Wuuchu landed in the red gum. He made the red gum fall down, killing all the other people. The few people who weren’t killed went and told their neighbours.

When they all came back to that place, they saw Kuukuup Wuuchu had eaten all the fish. The people were angry. In revenge, they grabbed the murt ngeeang and cursed his spirit to fly in the form of the Kuukuup Wuuchu (“blue heron”).

And that is how the Kuukuup Wuuchu came to be and he still flies alone.

Source: Djab wurrung: Kuukuup Wuuchu (the Blue Heron), Culture Victoria,

Follow the reference link at the bottom of this page to read the original details and source.

  • Scientific classification
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Genus: Egretta
  • Species: E. novaehollandiae
  • Binomial name: Egretta novaehollandiae
  • Synonyms:
    • Ardea novaehollandiae
    • Notophoyx novaehollandiae

Images © Dorothy L / Images © CK Leel

Footnote & References

  1. White-faced Heron, by Melissa Murray, 14 December 2020, Australian Museum,
  2. Kuukuup Wuuchu (the Blue Heron), Story translated by Vicki Couzens – Dhauwurd Wurrung and Keerray Woorroong, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages,

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