The IUCN-SCC Heron Specialist Group

Heron Specialist Group (HeronConservation) Virtual Meetings
– 26-27 January 2021 and follow up survey sent to HSG membership

January 26 attendees: Clay Green, Chip Weseloh, John Brzorad, Ghisselle Alvarado, Gemma Goodman-Hattie, Mark Riegner, Rob Clay, Tim Dodman, Katsutoshi Matsunaga, Andrew Kasner, Alexa Hinojosa, Deborah Chen, Ray Telfair II, Nellie Tsipoura, David Stanton

January 27 attendees: Clay Green, Chip Weseloh, John Brzorad, Ray Telfair II, Stefano Volponi, Neil Baker, Stephanie Tyler, Doug Harebottle, Rostam Mirzadi, David Stanton, Dale Gawlik, Gemma Goodman-Hattie, Sara Schweitzer, Katsutoshi Matsunaga, Will Duckworth, Pema Khandu, Indra Acharja, Davide Emiliani, Roshnath Ramesh, Sadashib Sen, Sarala Khaling, Samiran Patgiri


The Heron Specialist Group, HeronConservation, is an independent network of biologists, conservationists, and others engaged in research and conservation of herons, egrets and bitterns (hereafter “herons”) of the world. We are the Heron Specialist Group (HSG) of IUCN and are the principal advisor to those organizations and others on the status and conservation of herons. In a review of Ardeidae diversity across the world and from HSG member survey data collected in 2016 (John Brzorad and Cathy King, unpubl. data), Figure 1 overlays species diversity with research locations giving us a better understanding of species and regions that are well represented and those lacking (i.e. species diverse areas with little research and conservation).

Figure 1

The Heron Specialist Group (HeronConservation) held two virtual meetings of the HSG on January 26-27, 2021. The 2 meetings were identical in content delivery but held at differing times to try and accommodate participation from as many of our members as possible. We had 15 people attend the first meeting and 22 attend the second. Each meeting was recorded and is available for viewing on heronconservation.org. Below is summary of some of the discussion during the meetings as well as results from polling conducted during and after both meetings.

Functions of Heron Specialist Group

After introductions from all participants, we reviewed and discussed the current functions of the HSG. Specifically, we discussed:

  • 1. Global and Regional Conservation Plans
  • 2. Species Working Groups
  • 3. Population Estimates
  • 4. IUCN RedList Assessments
  • 5. Journal of Heron Biology and Conservation
  • 6. Networking
  • 7. Meetings (Virtual and In-Person)

After this discussion, we polled the participants and asked them to pick the three functions of the HSG that was most important to them (Figure 2). Note, polling results include participants from both virtual meetings and responses from 13 additional members who were unable to attend either virtual meeting. In total, we had 30 members participate in the polls. While all functions had support from our members, the strongest support was for global and regional planning (93%) and networking (80%). Additionally, over half of members polled indicated importance for species working groups (60%) and RedList Assessments (57%).

Figure 2

Goals for the next Quadrennial (2021-2024)

We then polled the participants (virtual meeting and follow up surveys) on what 3 goals should the HSG focus on for the quadrennial, 2021-2024. Specifically, the suggested quadrennial goals were

  • 1. Revision of the Global Plan for Heron Conservation
  • 2. Supporting Existing Species Working Groups and Establishment of New Species Working Groups
  • 3. Zoo Sponsorship for HSG
  • 4. Planning and execution of 3rd Herons of the World Symposium
  • 5. Development of Regional/Continental Plans
  • 6. Virtual Meetings on Special Topics related to Heron Conservation

Like the first poll on HSG functions, 30 members participated in this poll on quadrennial goals for HSG (Figure 3). Continental/Regional Planning (90%) and Species Working Groups (90%) were the most supported goals with smaller but still majority support for Virtual Meetings on Special Topics (67%) and Global Conservation Plan (60%).

Figure 3

Discussion Points during Virtual Meetings

During the virtual meetings, the membership discussed a number of relevant topics related to our functions and goals as a specialist group. We summarize these below; further discussion is available on the recorded meetings.

Support for Species Working Groups: We discussed the importance of establishing species working groups for the most endangered herons that do not currently have working groups (i.e. Japanese Night-Heron, New Guinea Tiger-Heron, White-crested Tiger-Heron and Madagascar Pond Heron) as well as seeking financial support for full time coordinator for established working groups and plan implementation. Specifically, financial support is needed for coordinator to lead the conservation plan implementation of the critically endangered White-bellied Heron. Additionally, the White-bellied Heron Working Group mentioned the idea of periodic newsletter to keep members and others informed about the species and activities of the working group. HSG endorses this idea and encourages other working groups to also provide some means of updating members and others on working group activities (see Journal below for forthcoming updates from some working groups). Other species would also greatly benefit from support for plan implementation including Slaty Egret, Agami Heron and Reddish Egret. Other herons that merit attention are the Cape Verde Purple Heron and Great White Heron. We also briefly discussed potential regional working groups such as a Sub-Saharan Heron Working Group.

IUCN RedList Assessment: We discussed the importance of membership participation in the IUCN RedList Assessment for herons, egrets and bitterns. While we acknowledge BirdLife International is the RedList Authority for all birds, it is critically important that HSG is central in all reviews and RedList assessments of herons, egrets and bitterns. The HSG discussed the establishment of a database cataloging the expertise of all members to include species experts as well as regional and country experts. This will afford greater ease in communicating to specific members when solicited feedback and reviews are needed for species assessments.

2nd Herons of the World Symposium: We reminded the membership about our planned Herons of the World Symposium to be held in conjunction with the Pan African Ornithological Congress (15-19 November 2021). The Symposium was originally scheduled for November 2020 but was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The PAOC meeting is tentatively planned still for November 2021 and more news on the PAOC will be available in the coming months. HSG has secured $6,300 (USD) for financial support of members to attend and present at the HSG symposium that includes funding from the IUCN SSC Internal Grants ($3,300) and the Waterbird Society ($3,000). For those interested in learning more about the Heron Symposium, please contact Doug Harebottle or Chip Weseloh.

Journal of Heron Biology and Conservation: The HSG journal has produced 5 volumes since its inception and, of late, 3 volumes in consecutive years (2018-2020). We have recently received commitments from several members (and working group leaders) to submit manuscripts to the journal for updates on Slaty Herons, White-bellied Herons, Australasian Bitterns, Reddish Egrets and Agami Herons. We encourage all members to consider submitting manuscripts to our journal and encourage others to likewise submit. We are soliciting “continental editors” to both solicit manuscripts from their respective continents as well as assist in reviews and/or recommending reviewers. Doug Harebottle has volunteered to serve as editor for the African continent. If interested in serving as a continental editor, please contact Chip Weseloh.

Regional and Global Planning: We had a brief discussion on the development and/or revision of regional, continental and global conservation plans. The HSG welcomes input here on specific regions where the development of conservation plans would be beneficial to leverage resources for research and conservation efforts. During this quadrennial, we will be revising the Global Plan for heron conservation and welcome any members interested in contributing to the plan.

Zoo Sponsorship/Veterinarian Support: While seeking sponsorship from a zoo for our specialist group was deemed a low priority by our members, there is a real need for zoo veterinarian support for the White-bellied Heron Working Group, specifically for assistance with their new captive breeding facility. The goal here would be to have “real time” virtual support from veterinarians that could assist the local staff at the captive breeding facility in the event of emergencies. If anyone has contacts at zoos that specialize in wading birds and could assist in developing this support, please contact the Clay Green.

Virtual Meetings (Special Topics): Due the success of the two virtual meetings, we discussed holding more virtual meetings in the future not only for general business of HSG but also to cover specific topics that could be of interest to our specialist group. Ideas range from meetings that regional focus (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa herons) to more broad topics (e.g. telemetry methodology, survey methodology). If you have interest in leading a particular topic relevant to heron conservation and research or would like to see a topic offered that could assist you in your endeavors, please contact Clay Green.

Strategic Review: While not specifically discussed during the virtual meetings, HSG will be conducting a strategic review of our group (previous review conducted in 2015) to include a review of our organizational structure, communications, partnerships, meetings, syntheses and working groups. HSG will reach out to all members in 2021 to solicit volunteers to assist in the strategic review.