On 26th September 2010, Thong Chow Ngian wrote: “I have attached two photos of an adult Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) in a nest with three chicks (above). One of the pictures shows the adult preening the down feather (above right). My question is whether those dark down feathers of Grey Herons only appear during nesting and breeding periods? I don’t see these feathers at other times.
“The chicks have already developed flight feathers. The chicks’ crown feathers normally straighten up when the parent arrives with food but slope down while waiting for the parent or after feeding. It is common to see the chicks shaking their throat violently and making loud noises while waiting for their parent to return with food. It was a delight to see three chicks in one nest, such a rare opportunity.
“Currently, at Singapore’s Sungei Tampines in Pasir Ris mangrove, this seems to be a favorite breeding ground for Grey Herons. One can easily spot eight heron nests from the viewing platform. One bird photographer I spoke to estimates that there could be 12 nests. The nest shown in the picture is the nearest to the platform, approximately 20 meters away.
“Some of the herons are still in their breeding colours, bright red legs and orange beaks. Very often, these herons can be seen breaking branches by snapping them with their strong mandibles and causing a loud snapping sound.”
We consulted R Subaraj who responded: “I cannot answer the down feather question posed as I have not spent time studying nesting herons. Seems unlikely that down feathers grow dark during breeding periods but it is best to check with someone who knows for sure. As for the bright orange legs and bill, these are for courtship. Once laying and brooding commences, the colour begins to fade. The photos clearly shows that the adult no longer has bright legs or bill. I would assume that adults showing bright colours at the nesting colony have not began the breeding process yet.”
The image on the left, sent in later by Chow Ngian, shows the herons in a nest with the bright colours of the bill and legs beginning to fade after courtship.