Capped Heron Pilherodius pileatus

  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: F. E. Buderman



Capped Herons spend about half (49%) of their foraging time (n=343 minutes) in a standing crouched position (Kushlan et al. 1982). In a typical sequence described by Kushlan et al. (1982), a Capped Heron will stand erectly, then, locating a potential prey item, crouch slowly and extend their neck.  This may be followed by a quick side to side head motion. They may also forage while walking, usually covering the same area repeatedly, pausing for a few seconds while slowly moving a foot to take a new step. The predominant motion used to catch prey is a bill thrust (91%, n=253 strikes), accompanied by a body lunge, followed by grasping or piercing. They have a success rate of 23% (n=254 strikes, Kushlan et al. 1982), but have a high strike frequency. There are reports of aerial hunting, with birds hovering over the water and swallowing fish in flight, and hunting from perches (Willard 1985). Capped Herons move frequently between feeding sites, sometimes flying up to a 100 m. When only moving a few meters, they will walk quickly or hop (Kushlan et al. 1982). May be crepuscular (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989), but have been observed foraging during broad daylight, unlike the night-herons (Haverschmidt 1958).

Capped Herons will depart from a foraging site when disturbed either by cars or by capybaras (Hydrochoeris hydrochoeris) (Kushlan et al. 1982). Stiff flight pattern, wings strongly bowed and raised only slightly above horizontal (Hilty 2003, Schulenberg et al. 2007).  Capped Heron; Cristalino, Mato Grosso, Brazil; December 2006 © Arthur Grosset


Strongly territorial, so much so that the same bird may be seen at the same foraging site for weeks at a time (Heckman 1998). One Capped Heron was seen chasing another away from a foraging site, until the other bird settled high in a tree (Haverschmidt 1958).

Sexual Behavior

See Vocalizations. Based on species with a similar biology, it's likely that pair bonds are long lasting (Kushlan and Hancock 2005).

Social and interspecific behavior

Birds in Venzuala were found to be usually solitary, but may form groups of up to 4 birds (Ogden and Thomas 1985).  18 of 19 observations of Capped Herons were of single birds (Kushlan et al. 1982), however foraging pairs have been reported (Kushlan et al. 1985). Birds may be seen with other species such as Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) and Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber) (Ogden and Thomas 1985), however other studies have found that they avoid large mixed-species flocks, appearing in fewer than 1% of 145 observed feeding aggregations (Kushlan et al. 1982). Capped Herons appear to be submissive to Great Egrets (Ardea alba), but dominant to Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) and Striated Herons (Butorides striatus). They give upright displays to overhead Great Egrets (Ardea alba) (Kushlan et al. 1982).


No information.

Recommended Citation

Buderman, F. E. (2010). Capped Heron (Pilherodius pileatus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.