The reef heron is a dark grey wading bird most often seen in coastal areas in the north of the North Island. One or two birds may be found patrolling a rocky shoreline or nearby estuary. Although similar to the common white-faced heron it is not seen as frequently and has slightly different feeding habits. Reef herons occur throughout Polynesia, and their prevalence in northern New Zealand may reflect their preference for warmer climates.
The dark grey colour provides the bird with excellent camouflage when it is patrolling the shoreline rocks that are its main habitat. The reef heron is wary, and flies away when approached too closely. It will, however, use man-made structures for nesting.