This species breeds in colonies in reed beds or trees close to large lakes or other extensive wetlands. It builds a bulky stick nest.
It feeds in shallow water, spearing fish, frogs or insects with its long, sharp bill. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim. It tends to keep within reedbeds more than the Grey Heron, and is often inconspicuous, despite its size
The Purple Heron is a large bird, standing 80cm tall, and it has a 120cm wingspan. It is somewhat smaller than Grey Heron, from which it can be distinguishes by its darker reddish-brown plumage, and, in adults, darker grey aback. It has a narrower yellow bill, which is brighter in breeding adults.
It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes and spoonbills, which extend their necks. The long neck of Purple Heron looks particularly snakelike, with more of an S-shape in flight.
The call is a loud croaking "krek ".