Photo: Tony Britton/Audubon Photography Awards

Green Heron

Butorides virescens

Along quiet streams or shaded riverbanks, a lone Green Heron may flush ahead of the observer, crying "kyow" as it flies up the creek. This small heron is solitary at most seasons and often somewhat secretive, living around small bodies of water or densely vegetated areas. Seen in the open, it often flicks its tail nervously, raises and lowers its crest. The "green" on this bird's back is an iridescent color, and often looks dull bluish or simply dark.
Conservation status Apparently stable. May be expanding its range northward in parts of the northwest.
Family Herons, Egrets, Bitterns
Habitat Lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, streamsides. May be found foraging in practically any aquatic habitat, but most common around small bodies of fresh water, especially those lined with trees, shrubs, tall marsh vegetation. Nests in a wide variety of situations, including willow thickets, mangroves, dry woods, open marsh.
Along quiet streams or shaded riverbanks, a lone Green Heron may flush ahead of the observer, crying "kyow" as it flies up the creek. This small heron is solitary at most seasons and often somewhat secretive, living around small bodies of water or densely vegetated areas. Seen in the open, it often flicks its tail nervously, raises and lowers its crest. The "green" on this bird's back is an iridescent color, and often looks dull bluish or simply dark.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by standing still or stalking very slowly at edge of shallow water, waiting for prey to approach. Sometimes uses "bait," dropping feather or small twig on surface of water to lure fish within striking distance.


Eggs

3-5, sometimes 2-7. Pale green or blue-green. Incubation is by both sexes, 19-21 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young begin to climb about near nest by 16-17 days after hatching, usually make first flight at 21-23 days, but are fed by parents for a few more weeks. Young are reportedly capable of swimming well. 1 or 2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young begin to climb about near nest by 16-17 days after hatching, usually make first flight at 21-23 days, but are fed by parents for a few more weeks. Young are reportedly capable of swimming well. 1 or 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly fish. Eats small fish such as minnows, sunfishes, gizzard shad; also crayfish and other crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, tadpoles. Other items include grasshoppers, snakes, earthworms, snails, small rodents.


Nesting

May nest as isolated pairs or in small groups, rarely in large colonies. Male chooses nesting territory and calls repeatedly from prominent perch in tree or shrub. Displays of male include stretching neck forward and down and snapping bill shut, pointing bill straight upward while swaying back and forth. Male and female may perform display flights around territory. Nest: Site is usually in shrub or tree 5-30' above ground, but sometimes on ground; often very close to water but can be quite distant. Nest is a platform of sticks; male begins construction, then female builds while male brings materials.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Withdraws in winter from all except southern tier of United States. Northern birds known to migrate as far as Panama, northern South America. Permanent resident in Central America, West Indies. Closely related species common in tropical areas around the world.

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Migration

Withdraws in winter from all except southern tier of United States. Northern birds known to migrate as far as Panama, northern South America. Permanent resident in Central America, West Indies. Closely related species common in tropical areas around the world.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Call is a sharp kyowk! or skyow!
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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