Fun Zigzag Heron Facts For Kids

Ayan Banerjee
Mar 08, 2023 By Ayan Banerjee
Originally Published on Sep 02, 2021
Edited by Monisha Kochhar
Fact-checked by Kidadl Team
According to a legend named after the color of its beak and eyes, the zigzag heron's full name is Ziggy-Zagga-King-of-the-Tonga.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 8.1 Min

The zigzag heron belongs to the monotypic genus Zebrilus, which is part of the Ardeidae family. This species flies in a zig-zag pattern, which is taken from the phrase 'Zigue Zague', which gives the bird its name. Deforestation in the Amazon Basin and illicit hunting in Venezuela pose serious threats to this species. The birds feed in wetlands and along the slow-moving rivers among other places.

The zigzag heron (Zebrilus undulatus) is a tiny, black woodland heron that is rarely sighted in the forest. Young birds have warmer tones in their plumage, which is totally gray-brown with fine black vermiculations. Its habitat occurs at low density in tropical areas, swampy forests, especially along densely vegetated riverbanks, and in areas with standing water. This species hunts deliberately, traveling slowly on the ground or ambushing food (prey) from low perches while constantly swishing its tail. When startled, they may freeze or fly away excruciatingly. It is heard more often than seen, high-pitched notes usually given before dawn and dusk.

The migration of the population (towards the east at times) is sedentary. Tiger-herons and bitterns are the closest relatives of this species. However, it shares some morphological and behavioral characteristics with bitterns, as evidenced by current research. For more relatable content, check out these night heron facts and gray heron facts for kids.

Zigzag Heron Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a zigzag heron?

The zigzag heron (Zebrilus undulatus) belongs to the Ardeidae family (species) of birds, which also involves egrets and bitterns.

What class of animal does a zigzag heron belong to?

Zigzag herons are birds of the Aves class of animals. They are known as warm-blooded vertebrates similar to American bitterns and purple finches.

How many zigzag herons are there in the world?

The species is sparse and regional, making it difficult to locate the birds and estimate the extent of their world population.

Where does a zigzag heron live?

The zigzag heron's natural habitat is subtropical or tropical swamp and forest. Its range is seen in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname. The range of the zigzag heron covers more or less the entire Amazon Basin and the east of the Andes cordillera.

What is a zigzag heron's habitat?

Within the dense tropical woods (in Bolivia and other South American countries), the zigzag heron habitat includes the basin grassy edges of small ponds, slow-moving forested rivers, gallery forest in savannas, and tundra habitats.

Who do zigzag herons live with?

A zigzag heron (Zebrilus undulatus) is often seen as solitary or alone and does not remain in a group.

How long does a zigzag heron live?

A zigzag heron range can live 15 years in the wild and when in captivity for 25 years.

How do they reproduce?

The breeding season occurs between April and July in the range, however, it varies by region, with December/March in Brazil and Bolivia being the most common.

The zigzag heron species nest solitary or in close proximity to other Ardeidae. Twigs and thorny branches line the perimeter of the nest, which is a shallow loose platform. This construction is created on the beach in the form of trees or shrubs. The female lays one to two pure white eggs, generally only one. The length of the incubation period is unknown, although it is the same for both sexes. This time range applies to little bitterns.

As the downy chick hatches, it is yellowish-cream or white, with juvenile rufous feathers that develop eventually. The head, wings, and back feathers are the last to show up. There is yellowish-green coloration on the bill and legs. The pupils are dilated and the eyes are yellowish in color. It climbs into the branches surrounding the nest as the babies develop. In little bitterns, the nesting period lasts 25-30 days. Both adults feed and care for the youngsters.

What is their conservation status?

The zigzag heron, Zebrilus undulatus, is endangered by habitat loss in the Amazon basin due to extensive desertification for urbanization. This species is scarce and regional, reticent and evasive. Illegal hunting is still an issue in the ecosystem among this habitat, which is now put in various conservation units and protected areas around the world. The IUCN and HSG have this species listed as Near Threatened.

Zigzag Heron Fun Facts

What do zigzag herons look like?

The adult heron usually has black, vermiculated wings. The feathers and rectrices are dark and unbarred, while the wings are black and brown with buff-white bars and speckles. The underparts are darker, with speckles and streaks visible, particularly on the fore-neck and breast, whilst the belly and vent are much paler and have fewer markings. When up straight, the head and neck are thin mottled gray, with a bushy occipital black crest that forms an eyeful mane.

The blackish bill is small and slender. The eyes are pale yellow, the lore is blackish, and the legs range in color, with usually yellow toes.

Facts about the zigzag heron (Zebrilus undulatus) include that it is a monotypic genus of the family Ardeidae, which also includes egrets, bitterns, and tiger herons.

* Please note that this is an image of a green heron which is similar to the parent breeds of zigzag heron. If you have an image of the zigzag heron please let us know at

The zigzag heron (Zebrilus undulatus) are not considered cute ones but are pretty with their elegant structural feature and dark-colored feathers. A small striped heron with black upperparts with crossbars, front neck, and breast lighter buff. The underbelly is buff, with a thickly mottled brown and black pattern on the breast and a less dense pattern on the abdomen. The primaries and tail are black.

How do they communicate?

The zigzag heron makes hollow hooting cries that are described as 'oooop'. This call can be made individually or in a succession. The other call is a nasal which is a high-pitched single 'ahnnn'. In order, a third call is made, which combines the first two noises. Adults hoot, whereas juveniles make a 'ahnnn' sound.

The bird's bill is held slightly upwards and semi-open when making these calls. While the sound is created, the skin of the neck moves. These cries are long-distance, typical of forest bird species, and are typically made at dawn and twilight.

How big is a zigzag heron?

A zigzag heron of the monotypic genus has a height of about 12.6 in (32 cm) and length somewhere between 11-11.8 lb (28-30 cm). They are approximately three times smaller than a flamingo which has a height of around 37.4-65 in (95-165 cm).

How fast can a zigzag heron move?

Herons fly over water surfaces at low levels as they search for the feeding areas. Their range can fly up to a speed of 28-34 mph (45-55 kph).

How much does a zigzag heron weigh?

A zigzag heron is small in size and weighs about 4.3 oz ( 123 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

Both mature sexes (adult) are nearly identical, but the male may have more strongly marked underparts. They have no separate names.

What would you call a baby zigzag heron?

A baby zigzag heron is called a juvenile and has juvenile plumage. The rufous forehead, sides of the head, and neck of the young bird population are reddish-brown. The bill is a yellowish-green color. The back is paler, with more rufous zigzag banding. Tawny on the bottom, with sparse, faint black stripes, the legs are yellow-green in color. The chick (second stage of juvenile plumage) is yellow cream or white down.

What do they eat?

Fish and invertebrates, including flying insects, are considered as zigzag heron diet. It hunts by standing on a tree branch, usually with its neck backward, above a body of water. When the prey is identified, it swings its tail from side to side while holding its body almost straight and extending its neck to catch the prey. Instead of stabbing, the victim is mostly grabbed by pecking. The heron preys by 'standing and waiting' behavior and catches flying insects like fishflies. The feeding time is at dawn and dusk.

Are they dangerous?

A zigzag heron is usually considered shy of humans, loyal and friendly creatures.

Would they make a good pet?

No. A zigzag heron is a wild bird and cannot be domesticated as a pet.

Did you know...

For spearing fish, all herons have broad beaks with sharp ends. Beaks can also be used to disturb the water and attract fish by opening and shutting. Flying insects like stink bugs are easily caught from the air with the beak.

The heron's physical features

The zigzag heron is a tiny, colored dark heron with a small tail. The upper part of the heron is mottled gray, with a big black crest forming a mane, giving the bird a glance of thickheaded appearance. The bill is short, with a black or gray top bill and a yellow lower bill. The lore is gray to black and the irises are yellow. The blackish upper wings are blocked and mottled and with a polished white pattern. The bottom is light-colored, heavily fastened, spotty, and black-streaked with a feathery upper leg. Gray horns with yellow toes make up the legs. They have long necks which can be extended to catch prey and retracted during flight.

How far can a heron fly?

Herons are frequently spotted soaring around low-level watercourses as they migrate between feeding places. They are powerful fliers with moderate fluttering on curved wings. Their head and neck are retracted in and their legs extending beyond their tails as they fly. During their migration to the east, for instance, they fly high up. They occasionally use thermals to gain height. They can fly up to 28-34 mph (45-55 kph).

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds from our goliath heron facts and tricolored heron fun facts for kids pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable zigzag heron coloring pages.

*Please note that the main image is of a great blue heron which is similar to the parent breeds of zigzag heron. If you have an image of the zigzag heron please let us know at

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Ayan Banerjee

Bachelor of Science specializing in Nautical Science

Ayan Banerjee picture

Ayan BanerjeeBachelor of Science specializing in Nautical Science

Thanks to his degree in nautical science from T.S. Chanakya, IMU Navi Mumbai Campus, Ayan excels at producing high-quality content across a range of genres, with a strong foundation in technical writing. Ayan's contributions as an esteemed member of the editorial board of The Indian Cadet magazine and a valued member of the Chanakya Literary Committee showcase his writing skills. In his free time, Ayan stays active through sports such as badminton, table tennis, trekking, and running marathons. His passion for travel and music also inspire his writing, providing valuable insights.

Read full bio >
Read the DisclaimerFact Correction