Pantanal Escapes

Agami Heron

The Agami Heron (or Chestnut-bellied Heron) is possibly the most visually stunning water bird in the Pantanal - but is difficult to see (and photograph) due to its reclusive nature, and preference for shade and heavy vegetation.
Although present in the Northern Pantanal, they're not very common - but can sometimes be encountered around oxbow lakes and small streams. Any photographer wanting to capture images of an Agami Heron needs to exercise great patience, and will require a significant amount of luck to get a clear shot. The herons will occasionally come out into the open (usually when panicked) but will then quickly return back into the vegetation.

computer_icon_black Audubon article on Agami Herons
(with the most stunning photo you'll ever see)

The Agami Heron stands about 60-76 cm tall, with a very distinctive multi-coloured plumage. It has a dark green back, a chestnut brown underside and neck. The neck has a long stripe running down the middle, at the front, bordered by sometimes sickle-like silvery-blue plumes. In the breeding season, both sexes develop ribbon-like silvery crest feathers up to 125 mm long - which have been likened to the birds wearing a wig of Einstein's hair. They also develop a small patch of silvery-blue plumage on their lower back. In addition to its unusual plumage, the Agami Heron has a very long neck (when extended), relative to its body size compared to other heron species, a long needle-like bill, and yellow or olive-green legs. Both sexes appear identical, except for the smaller size of the females.

Behaviour and Habitat


The Agami Heron is a neotropical lowland species found in swamp-like wooded areas along the banks of streams, rivers, and lakes. The species prefers to remain in areas below 300m elevation, although there a few exceptions where has been seen at higher altitudes. Its range extends downwards from eastern Mexico through Central America and the upper regions of South America - extending further down into the Brazilian and Bolivian Amazon. The northern Pantanal represents the southern-most point of its range.

There is a suggestion that the species' appearance in the Pantanal is recent, and may be related to habitat loss in the Amazon basin or other factors. If so, there may be risks for the species as it relocates into a new (and potentially less ideal) environment which could see them competing unsuccessfully with other better adapted species.

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Cuiabá cityscape, with the Metropolitan Catedral in the foreground. Credit: Shutterstock/Roberto Tetsuo Okamura

Scientific Name

Agamia agami

Local Name

Garça-da-mata
(Wood Heron)

Description
 
 
 

Very striking heron, with distinctive multi-coloured plumage. It has a dark green back, a chestnut brown underside and neck. The neck has a long stripe running down the middle, at the front, bordered by sometimes sickle-like silvery-blue plumes. The Agami Heron stands about 60-76 cm tall, with a very neck (even in comparison with other hero species) when extended.
 


Within most of it's range, it remains an uncommon and rarely encountered species. Agami Herons are shy and prefer to stay hidden in mangroves or low foliage overhanging the water. Their habits are almost nocturnal, being mostly quiet during the day - and reputedly much more active at night or during early mornings and dusk. As with other herons, the Agami Herons' diet consists primarily of fish, frogs and molluscs - which they hunt by wading belly deep into shaded water and waiting motionless to spear passing fish. This diet is supplemented with other opportunistic prey which includes insects and small reptiles.
tv_icon Video: Agami Heron in the Pantanal

Reproduction


Until recently, relatively little was known about the Agami Herons' reproduction and courtship. The breeding season occurs in the period June-September, when the normally solitary animals group together into small colonies. Each colony numbers around six nests, and is sometimes mixed in with colonies of other heron species.

Courtship begins when the male chooses a nest site and starts displaying around it. It's then up to interested females to respond - signalling their interest by approaching the male and dancing. She shakes her plumes, bows, rocks on her legs, and the normally yellow patches of skin on her face turn bright red. The males will often rebuff the female, sometimes aggressively, with their beaks - and the process may take several days. Once the male has accepted the female as his partner, they both proceed to build the nest.

Nests are typically built in a tree or bush 1-3 m above water - but still within cover of the foliage. The nest is really just a thick platform of sticks and twigs rather than being the open cup structure that is more typically associated with bird's nests. The completed nest measures around 15 cm in diameter and 8 cm in height. When ready, the female generally lays a small clutch of around two eggs, which are coloured blue-green, and measure around 3.5 cm in diameter. No official incubation period is published for the species, but is likely in the range 28-32 days, as per other similarly sized heron species. After hatching, the young gain weight quickly - doubling their size within the first week. Again, given the very little information published about this species, it's uncertain how long it takes the chicks to fledge - but its probably in the range 6-8 weeks.

Conservation Threats


The species is categories as vulnerable by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with the biggest threats coming from habitat loss associated with deforestation for cattle ranching and soy production. It is also susceptible to hunting.
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Tuiuiu or Jabiri Stork in the Pantanal, Brazil
Amazon kingfisher in the Pantanal, Brazil
Turkey Vulture in flight over the Pantanal, Brazil
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Banner image:Agami Heron (iStock/StudioSansan)
Footer images: Tuiuiú, Turkey Vulture(
Andrew Mercer); Amazon Kingfisher (Shutterstock/Ecoventurestravel)