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What is a Green Heron?

By A. Delgado
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The green heron, or Butorides virescens, is a small bird that lives near wetlands. It belongs to the family of birds known as green-backed herons. Their habitat includes ponds, streams, swamps and creeks in areas of North and South America. The birds are known for their use of lures to draw their prey to the surface of the water.

The average weight of a green heron is around 6 ounces (175 grams) and they measure between 16 and 18 inches in length (41-46 cm). Female herons are smaller than the males, and are less brightly colored. Green herons have greenish-black feathers covering the top of their head, and the plumage on their wings is mainly black with a bluish-green tint. Their neck and chest feathers are reddish-brown.

The range of the green heron extends through the eastern half of the United States and up into southern Canada. The birds also live in Mexico, parts of the southwestern United States and parts of northern South America. Populations in the eastern US migrate to warmer climates in winter. The green heron isn't considered endangered, but populations could be affected if wetland habitat loss continues.

Green herons build nests in trees and shrubs near small wetland areas. They prefer to stay close to streams, ponds, marshes, swamps, creeks and other bodies of water that provide food and offer cover with heavy vegetation. In cold weather, green herons move to mangrove swamps and coastal bodies of water.

The clever wading birds use several different types of bait to entice prey to the water's surface. They drop live bait, such as insects and worms, and inanimate bait, such as bread crusts and twigs, in the water. When minnows, sunfish and other fish species swim up to investigate, the birds quickly grab them with their strong beaks. Green herons also feed on crustaceans, eels, aquatic insects, frogs, snakes and small rodents.

The breeding season occurs from March through July. Females green herons lay three to five light green eggs, which both parents take turns incubating for approximately 20 days. The chicks leave the nest when they're around 16 days old and begin flying around 21 days of age.

Predators of the green heron include common grackles, crows and snakes, which eat the eggs. Larger birds of prey hunt adult herons, and mammals such as raccoons prey on chicks. As a defense mechanism, green herons use a loud squawk to alert other herons to the presence of predators.

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