The Green Heron

The Green Heron

Butorides virescens

Green Herons are wading birds. They can be found in fresh water and salt water marshes, ponds, and coastal shorelines, wetlands, reservoirs and the Great Swamp. Their range is North and Central America. They arrive to their breeding ground in the Great Swamp in March and April. As the weather gets colder in September and October they travel south to warmer climate where food is available.

The Green Heron is small as compared to the Great Blue. It is the size of a crow, being about 17” in length. Their head is greenish black and the back of the head can have a raised crest with a reddish brown neck. The wings are black with iridescent green and blue tones with light, off white edges. The under body is gray. The eyes legs are orange or yellow. They have a long neck like other herons but mostly they keep it retracted. The female is slightly smaller and duller in coloring than the male. They are a shy bird but if intruded upon will viciously defend their territory.

They hunt by day and night alone or sometimes as a pair. They will wade into shallow water and stand patiently or perch low above the water watching for prey. The Green Heron is one of a few bird species that use “tools” to catch their prey. They will drop insects, twigs, earthworms and feathers on the surface of the water to attract fish. They retract their neck and spear the prey with their bill. Their feet are partially webbed which allows them the ability to swim after prey. They are able to hover briefly to catch their prey. Their diet consists of fish, insects, dragonflies, earthworms, leeches, snakes, frogs and tadpoles. They strike their prey with their beaks and swallow it whole.

The Green Heron will have only one mate and one brood per year. The mating season begins in March through July. The male is noted for his amazing aerial courtship display. The male selects the nesting site and collects nesting material and protects the nest as the female is constructing it. The nest is 8 to 12 inches across and less than 2 inches deep. They nest mostly by themselves but may sometimes join other green heron colonies. Three to five pale greenish/bluish eggs are laid. The parents share in the incubation period, which lasts 21 to 25 days. Both parents regurgitate food to feed the young. The chicks are fledged in about 16 days. They stay for about another 30 days while they are learning how to hunt.

Predators of the Green Heron are larger birds, snakes and raccoons.

The lifespan of the Green Heron is 8 years.

 Conservation Status: Least Concern

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