NatureMapping Animal Facts

Green Heron

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

Other names: Green-backed Heron, Garcita verde (Spanish), Heron vert (French)
Species Code: BUST

distribution map Description: The Green Heron is a small, stocky wading bird, common in wetlands across much of North America. Greenish black cap on head with a rufous (reddish-brown) neck. The crest can be raised on back of head. Eyes orange or yellow. Wings blackish with green or blue gloss. Underparts gray. Wing feathers edged in buff. Legs yellow or yellowish orange - changing to glossy orange during breeding season.

The male and female are similar, but the female is slightly smaller, duller, and lighter.

It can be very difficult to spot as it stands motionless waiting for small fish to approach within striking range. It frequently announces its presence by its loud squawking.

Green Heron photo by Alan Wilson

Calls: The flight or alarm call is an explosive "skeow." Also make series of "kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk" notes.
Listen to calls of this species »

Range/Habitat: Green Herons inhabit small freshwater wetlands, ponds, and stream-sides lined with thick vegetation. During the winter, they frequent coastal areas and mangrove swamps.

Green Herons were not reported in Washington until 1939. Scattered summer observations were reported after 1939 in western Washington and the first nest was discovered in 1960.

Click the range map to learn more about the distribution of Green Herons in Washington.

Green Heron photo by Alan Wilson

Diet: Green Herons are opportunistic feeders, with fish as the primary food source. Crayfish and other crustaceans are a regular source of food. They also hunt for aquatic insects, grasshoppers, frogs, rodents and snakes.

Behavior: The Green Heron is one of the few tool-using birds. It commonly drops bait onto the surface of the water and grabs the small fish that are attracted. It uses a variety of baits and lures, including crusts of bread, insects, earthworms, twigs, or feathers.

Nesting: These birds nest in trees, usually near water. Green herons do best when they are free of human disturbance and have foraging areas near by.

Unlike most herons, the Green Heron does not typically nest in large colonies. The male starts the nest, bringing long, thin sticks to the female who finishes building the nest. Both parents incubate the 3 to 5 eggs for about 19 to 21 days. Once the young birds hatch, both parents feed them by regurgitating food. Both adults help brood the young for about three weeks. At about 16 to 17 days, the young climb about near the nest, and they first start to fly at 21 to 23 days. The parents continue to feed the young for a few more weeks until they fledge after about 30 to 35 days.

Fledge - feed, care for, and rear young birds for flight when the leave the nest
Regurgitate - feed through the beak by ejecting previously swallowed food.

Did you know?

  • The Green Heron is one of the few tool-using birds.
  • In flight, it resembles a crow, but the wing beats are slower, its a slightly different shape, and the neck is reddish-brown.
  • Both parents incubate the eggs for 19 to 21 days (3 weeks).
  • The young can first fly at about 21 to 23 days old.

Green Heron photo by Alan Wilson

Green Heron   photo by Alan Wilson

More information:
BirdWeb: Green Heron
All About Birds: Green Heron

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