Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Green Heron--Butorides virescens

Green Heron at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Green Herons are secretive birds. Birdwatchers can often miss them because Green Herons like to keep under cover in the reeds or in the trees. On occasion, they strike a bittern-like pose with their bill in the air attempting to blend in with the reeds or other foilage. They are less likely to be found in the open than other herons or egrets. However, they can be found in wetlands, ponds, lakes, and rocky bays, and rocky beaches. You often first know they are around when they fly away. (I used to see them on the rocks in the dock area by the Catalina Express in Long Beach. I usually didn't get a good look because they would fly off the rocks and across to the other side when they saw me.) In flight, they often have their neck extended, but often as they fish or sit, it is pulled close to the body. With the neck pulled in they look chunky and round like the Black-crowed Night Heron. They are active in the daytime, but do call at night. See the video below of a Green Heron fishing at night.

Green Heron at El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach

The Green Heron likes to fish from either perches, the shore, or wades right into the water. It eats small fish, invertebrates, insects (including Dragon Flies), and small amphibians including frogs. They also eat small rodents.

Green Heron at Huntington Central Park--photo taken through a break in the foilage.

The Green Heron looks like its back feathers have a green tint in the right light. Hence, its former name, Green-backed Heron. Our Green Herons do not migrate for the most part, but are resident in Orange County. Because they are so secretive, you may have difficulty seeing them often especially when birding with large groups or later in the day. I have had the most luck earlier in the day or a few hours before sunset. Approach ponds and lakes quietly and look closely in the reeds and trees.

At San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

I often see Green Herons near reeds, near a pond, or rocks by water. I was surprised this little heron above was so tolerant. Although it did eventually fly, it stayed for quite a while in plain sight. Green Herons like their privacy, and even nest apart from other Herons--including other Green Herons. For a bird that seems shy, the male's courtship display is rather loud and very active. They are monogamous for a season. The immature is heavily streaked and looks similar to an immature Black-crowned Night Heron, but more rufous and has a blackish crest.

Green Heron picking its way through the reeds. Notice how its tail flicks almost constantly.

The Green Heron's tail flicks almost constantly at times. The crest is raised and lowered when agitated.

Green Heron catching a fish at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve--uncharacteristically out in the open.

The Green Heron is quite a fisher. It will put things on the water like feathers, twigs, or bread to attract prey. Then it just waits for a nibble. Check out this video on the Internet Bird Collection of a Green Heron using bread as bait.

Green Heron with raised crest at Huntington Central Park

When Green Herons are unpleasantly surprised and agitated, they will raise their crests like this one above.

Wading closer to the fish at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Orange County

So when you are birding in Orange County and approaching a pond or rocky shore, approach quietly and watch for this secretive little heron. You might just see one.

OC Birder Girl Links

Black-crowned Night Heron--Nycticorax nycticorax

Great Blue Heron--Ardea herodias

Great Egret--Ardea alba

Reddish Egret--A Rare Bird

Snowy Egret--Egretta thula

Green Heron at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

At Huntington Central Park

Watch a Green Heron fish at night. From You Tube. Roger from Miami caught this on video.

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Green Heron

Detailed page about the Green Heron including diet, range, description, habitat, and more.

Animal Diversity Web: Green Heron

Very detailed page about the Green Heron.

Baiting of Fish by a Green Heron

Article from 1958 on observing a Green Heron actively using bread to attract fish he then caught and ate. Page down past the sun-bathing article to find this one.

BirdWeb: Green Heron

Good, detailed article from Seattle Audubon.

Green-backed Heron baits fish with insects

Article form 1986 in which the author watches a Green-backed Heron (former name of Green Heron) use a live mayfly to attract fish. After clicking on the link, page down to find the right article.

Nature Works: Green Heron

Good Article from New Hampshire Public Television.

Use of Bait and Lures by Green-Backed Herons in Amazonian Peru

Interesting article. Page down the PDF file to find the article.

USGS: Green Heron

Short Article.

Concentration. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo by Gary Kramer.

Do you have a question about birding, feeding wild birds, or birds in Orange County? Go to Ask the OC Birder Girl and ask your question.

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1 comment:

Annette! said...

Just wanted to let you know that a green heron now resides in our backyard in Lake Forest. It is scoping our fancy fish pond. Fortunately, I hope, we have a double netting over the pond. The bird sits on the netting pole while the foolish goldies are swimming around underneath hoping for food. They don't realize they are dinner to the GH. I think this heron use to live in the Aliso Creek nearby which has become a raging river this week from the El Ninos storms. It's feet look more orange than the photos on your blog other than that it is a Green Heron for sure!