Little Herons eat mainly small fish and crustacea (especially crabs).
They also take amphibians and insects and any other edible titbits,
including small mammals.
Little Herons use a wide variety of hunting techniques, but usually
hunt from cover and rarely forage on the open mudflats.
Often, they perch-and-wait on a branch or root over the water,
tucking in their necks and crouching in a low forward position over the
water. They may flick their crests up and down as they wait. Little
Herons may also jump, plunge or swim after their prey. Or they may use
their feet to stir up or rake the surface for titbits. They may even
dive into the water.
But more impressively, they may bait fish and other prey, e.g., by
dropping a leaf onto the surface. Unlike other herons, Little Herons are
not deterred by the rising tide as they are small enough to perch on
overhanging branches, though often precariously.
Both adults and young birds have a partial web between the middle and
outer toes, which may allow them to swim. Nestlings that fall into the
water paddle efficiently to safety. And adult birds paddle back after
plunging into water after prey.
These solitary birds usually hunt and roost alone and are highly
territorial. But in good feeding areas, several of them may be spaced
out at regular intervals. Little Herons prefer to hunt during the early
morning and late evening, in shallow waters lined with vegetation which
provide good perches and hiding places: mainly mangroves, estuaries,
coral reefs and rocky coasts. They may also be found, less commonly and
in smaller numbers, in freshwater wetlands such as swamps, streams,
canals, reservoirs, and even parks and gardens.
Breeding: Little Herons appear to breed year-round. Courtship
displays involve crest raising, neck fluffing with aerial displays,
circle and crooked-neck flights and snap displays. This is accompanied
by their harsh rasping courting calls and constant tail flicking.
Usually, the male performs the displays.
Little Herons usually nest alone, but loose colonies of up to 10
nesting pairs have been encountered, sometimes several nests to one
tree. They prefer to nest in mangroves, in trees or in bushes, often
over water. They do not appear to nest further than 3 km from the coast.
They build flimsy platform nests out of twigs about 30 cm wide and 5cm
deep. Nests are built at 2-10 m up.
2-7, usually 5-4, pale greenish-blue eggs are laid. Both parents
incubate. Hatchlings are covered in yellow down and emerge at the same
time. Both parents feed and raise the young. The young remain in the
nest until they fledge. But if disturbed, they will scramble out of the
nest and cling to branches to make it more difficult for predators to
pick them off.
Migration: Little Herons are generally resident in their range, but
those that breed far north in East Asia (A. s. amurensis) do migrate
Status and threats: Little Herons do not appear to be under serious
threat as they are still very widespread and found even on oceanic
islands. But like other herons, they are affected by habitat destruction
and pollution of their environment. In the past they were hunted for
food although they apparently only make "tolerable eating".