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Green Heron

Butorides virescens

The green heron is a small, crow-like wading bird with a chestnut neck and grayish-green back. (Matt Knoth/Flickr)
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The green heron is a small, crow-like wading bird with a chestnut neck and grayish-green back. (Matt Knoth/Flickr)

The green heron is a small, crow-like wading bird with a chestnut neck and grayish-green back. It visits the Chesapeake Bay region’s marshes and wetlands from spring through autumn.

Appearance:

  • Small, crow-like body
  • Reddish or chestnut head and neck
  • Glossy, greenish-black cap, sometimes raised in a shaggy crest
  • Grayish-green back and wings. The wing feathers are edged in buff.
  • Brownish-gray underparts
  • Pointed, spear-like bill is yellow at the base and brownish-black at the tip
  • White and black streaks on the chin, throat and upper breast
  • Yellow legs and feet. The male’s legs turn orange during breeding season.
  • Grows to about 18 inches with a wingspan of about 26 inches

Habitat:

  • Lives in tidal wetlands, including swamps, marshes and the edges of creeks and rivers
  • Also found along lakes, ponds and wooded streams
  • Rarely seen because it is shy and secretive

Range:

  • Visits the Chesapeake Bay region from spring through autumn
  • Winters in southern coastal swamps

Feeding:

  • Eats mostly fish and invertebrates, but will also feed on frogs, snakes and amphibians
  • Stalks its prey by silently standing at the edge of the water with its neck folded back on its shoulders. It then quickly lunges into the water and grabs or stabs its prey with its spear-like bill.
  • Sometimes drops twigs, bread or insects onto the water to lure fish to the surface. It is one of the few birds that will use bait to attract prey.

Predators:

  • Crows and snakes prey upon heron eggs
  • Large birds of prey may eat adult green herons

Flight:

  • Resembles a crow when flying
  • Flies with slow, steady wingbeats
  • Look for chestnut neck held in a bunched, S-shaped position in flight

Voice:

  • Very vocal
  • Calls include a series of kucks or a loud kyow, skow or skuck
Green Heron courtesy of J.P. Lawrence, Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Considered semi-colonial because it may create a nest alone or in a colony with other herons
  • Usually begins arriving at breeding areas in early April
  • During courtship, the male extends his neck feathers and swells his throat in a sharp call, then hops from one foot to the other in front of a female
  • Nests in shrubs and small trees, as well as on duck blinds
  • Females lay 3-6 eggs twice per year
  • Both parents incubate the eggs for about 23 days
  • Young stay in the nest until they are able to fly, about 30 days after hatching
  • Most green herons depart their breeding areas from mid-July to mid-October
  • May live up to eight years

Other Facts:

  • When alarmed, a green heron may stretch its neck, raise its crest and jerk its tail. It will also call a piercing skew.
  • Able to swim

Sources and Additional Information:




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