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John Edward Gray, the Indian Pond Heron and Walsall

Indian Pond Heron, copyright Cliff Buckton

Who? What?

What, you may well be asking yourself, has the Indian Pond Heron got to do with the RSPB Walsall Local Group?

Good question.

John Edward Gray

The Indian Pond Heron's scientific name is Ardeola grayii (pronounced ah-dee-oh-la grey-ee-eye). It was named after John Edward Gray - and he was born in Walsall, in 1800.

He moved to London with his family, and studied medicine, but was more interested in botany (the study of plants) and helped his father, Samuel, to compile his scholarly book, 'The Natural Arrangement of British Plants".

John became Secretary of the Entomological Society (entomology is the study of insects), and through that, obtained a position as Keeper of the Zoological Branch of the Natural History Department of the British Museum. In the fifty years that he worked there, he wrote 497 scientific papers, with another 500 or more books, memoirs and other papers in his lifetime catalogue. At least one of these, "Gleanings from the Knowsley Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall, 1846-50", was illustrated by Edward Lear , the latter better known for his "Book of Nonsense".

Gray managed to enlarge the museums collections, sometimes at his own expense, and had the idea that collections for scientific study should be separated from those on public view. He described over 40 new species of bird. In January 1832, he was elected to the Royal Society. He died on 7 March 1875, leaving no children.

His brother, George Robert Gray, also worked at the museum. He was equally busy, and published a book, "Genera of Birds". Although now superseded, in documented 11,000 species and had 46,000 references. One of his discoveries was Locustella fasciolata, now known as Gray's Grasshopper Warbler.

The collections amassed by the two brothers were moved in 1880 to a new home, forming the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. In 1972, the bulk of the collection - by then half a million skins - was moved to Tring.

The Indian Pond Heron

The Indian Pond Heron was first described, in the 1832 edition of "The Proceedings of the Zoological Society", by Colonel W. H Sykes, who named it in honour of Gray.

A close relative of the Squacco Heron (A. ralloides), which it resembles, it occurs in Iran, around the southern end of Persian Gulf, eastwards to southern Baluchistan; in India, south to Ceylon; in the Laccadives, Maldives, Andamans and Nicobars, and in Burma (Myanmar). Its habitat is usually freshwater, sometimes brackish, lagoons or on coastal mudflats, but it can also be seen on almost any kind of freshwater from small stagnant pools to large lakes, often close to human habitation.

An Indian Pond Heron once even featured on a Bangladeshi stamp*.

Sadly, the chances of seeing one in Walsall are quite remote!

Indian Pond Heron, copyright Vijay Cavale



Many thanks to group member Andy Thomas* for bringing this matter to our attention; to Stuart Williams of the Walsall Local History Centre* for help researching this article, and to the various photographers for kindly granting permission to use their images, whose copyright remains theirs.

Andy Mabbett
October 2002

Indian Pond Heron, copyright Tony Coatsworth
Indian Pond Heron, copyright Sumit Sen


* Neither the Group nor the RSPB can accept responsibility for the content of web sites to which we link.