Petulu White heron sanctuary is located in Petulu village in Ubud, Bali. If you stay in Ubud, you will definitely see a lot of white birds flying around green rice fields during the day. Their home is apparently in the trees of Petulu village. It’s a very small village about 5 kilometres from the main road of central Ubud. To get there, you’ll pass through beautiful green landscape of rice fields. Make sure that you arrive at about 6 o’clock in the evening because it’s the time when the all the white herons fly home and it’s such a pretty sight. There’s post at the entrance of the village where you’ll be asked to make donation. Other than that, you can enter the village for free. If you’re lucky, you could also see some local football match at the football field behind the entrance post.
The herons of Petulu are species of birds that are mostly white. Their beaks, necks and legs are longer than their body. There are 3 kinds of herons living in Petulu.
The tallest is called little egret, the medium has brown neck and is called cattle egret, while the smallest has a black patch on its neck and is called Javan pond heron. There is a certain order in how the birds build their nests in the trees: the largest ones build their nests at the top of the trees, the medium in the middle, and the smallest in the bottom. These three species interestingly never interbreed.
Historically these herons first arrived in Petulu in 1965 right when the villagers were having a large ceremony at their temple. The full white and black patch herons arrived first. The brown-necked ones followed a year later. As these birds arrived after their religious ceremony, the villagers consider them as a blessing from God. Nowadays, they even have special ceremony for the herons called “memendak kokokan”.
One thing that you have to be careful of is the birds’ shit. Some of the area below the trees are heavily covered with white shit. My friend and I called it “white zone” and every time we passed these zones, we’d run and tried to cover our hair. The villagers didn’t seem to have the similar problem, though. They seemed to be happy enough to let the birds’ drop fall on their heads and bodies. Perhaps, they even considered it a blessing.
Every afternoon thousands of herons arrive, circling over Petulu before settling into one of the many fig trees in the village where they will spend the night. Next morning they leave again, only to return again in the afternoon.
There are several explanations on why the birds arrive a Petulu every night. A common claim is that the herons are the lost souls of the thousands of people that died during the anti-communist massacre in the mid-sixties and for whom there where held a ceremony in Petulu, shortly after the herons started arriving at Petulu and has continued do so ever since.
The villagers believe that the herons are sacred, which is enhanced by their white and yellow feathers that are holy Hindu colours, and that they bring good luck and prosperity to the village.
The perfect time to get there is about an hour before sunset.
If you leave before it gets completely dark, consider taking a more scenic route back to Ubud, which is the north road out of Petulu. The road will take you through rice fields and a bit of forest before it connects with the road that will take you back South to Ubud.