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Green Heron

The Green Heron

Scientific name: Butorides virescens

Did You Know?
The green heron is one of the few birds that uses tools. That’s right. When fishing, the green heron sometimes uses bait and lures including insects, feathers and twigs to help nab its meal. This industrious bird drops the bait or lure into the water. If something nibbles at the bait, the green heron quickly extends its neck and uses its long pointy beak to spear its catch.

Is the green heron really green?
Well…its legs are yellowish-orange – and so are its eyes. Its neck and chest are a rusty red. But the green heron does have a green back, a strip of green feathers on its head and a green hue to its wings. Young herons have a white and brown striped neck and chest area. Their backs are brown with white and beige spots.

Would you believe?
Green herons use a couple of fairly common tactics to scare off would be predators. They have the ability to freeze and hold until the predator passes; they can also fly away quickly, squawking loudly. But their most unique defence is their excrement! That’s right. These birds aim their poop at potential predators – and with great accuracy. They often hit predators where it counts – in the eyes! The predator is, in effect, temporarily “blinded” and the green heron gets away!

Measuring Up

  • body length between 41 and 46 cm (female is slightly smaller than male)
  • wingspan of 64-68 cm
  • weight of approximately 240 grams

Features

  • second smallest bird in the heron family (only the “least bittern” is smaller)
  • long, dark, slender bill that comes to a very sharp point and is often used to “spear” food
  • long legs – though shorter than most herons’ legs
  • long neck – though it is often pulled in close to its chest

Diet

  • eats small fish, primarily
  • also eats frogs, insects, spiders, snakes, small rodents and crustaceans

Home

  • makes its home in trees surrounded by dense vegetation near wetlands, ponds, rivers, lakes and estuaries
  • well adapted for wading through shallow water
  • generally lives near freshwater but may also make its home near saltwater

Behaviour

  • able to stand perfectly still, waiting for prey to come within striking range
  • holds its head near its body while in flight
  • stretches its long neck during take off and landing and when trying to catch prey

Reproduction

  • male generally selects nesting site and then attracts a female through an elaborate courtship dance
  • pair builds a simple stick nest together
  • male provides sticks and female assembles nest
  • normally nest “solo” (one couple per area)
  • female lays 2 to 6 blue-green eggs
  • male and female take turns incubating eggs (19 to 21 days)
  • male and female take turns feeding their young regurgitated food
  • young make their first flight at approximately 22 days old

Threats

  • crows, grackles and snakes hunt green heron eggs
  • racoons will attack nestlings
  • large birds of prey have been known to eat adult green herons

Status

  • not considered endangered or threatened
  • loss of habitat is a major concern

Video Credits:

  • Writer: Susan Terrill
  • Camera: Douglas and Franziska von Rosen
  • Editor: Douglas von Rosen
  • Music: Greg Forbes

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