Green Heron

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Green Heron (Butorides virescens) The Green Heron is relatively small. The neck is often pulled in tight against the body. Adults have a glossy, greenish-black cap, a greenish back and wings that are grey-black grading into green or blue, a chestnut neck with a white line down the front, grey underparts and short yellow legs. The bill is dark with a long, sharp point. Female adults tend to be smaller than males, and have duller and lighter plumage, particularly in the breeding season. Juveniles are duller, with the head sides, neck and underparts streaked brown and white, tan-splotched back and wing coverts, and greenish-yellow legs and bill. Their body length is 16-18 inches, with a 25-27 inch wingspan and body weight of 8.5 ounces. Green Herons stand motionless at the water’s edge as they hunt for fish and amphibians. They typically stand on vegetation or solid ground, and they don’t wade as often as larger herons. In flight these compact herons can look ungainly, often partially uncrooking their necks to give a front-heavy appearance. Green Herons eat mainly small fish such as minnows, sunfish, catfish, pickerel, carp, perch, gobies, shad, silverside, eels, and goldfish. They also feeds on insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents). They hunt by standing still at the water’s edge, in vegetation, or by walking slowly in shallow water. When a fish approaches, the heron lunges and darts its head, grasping (or sometimes spearing) the fish with its heavy bill. Occasionally Green Herons hunt in deeper water by plunging on prey from above. They hunt at all times of the day and night in the shallows of swamps, creeks, marshes, ditches, ponds, and mangroves. They usually forage among thick vegetation in water that is less than 4 inches deep, avoiding the deeper and more open areas frequented by longer-legged herons. Each breeding season, Green Herons pair up with one mate apiece, performing courtship displays that include stretching their necks, snapping their bills, flying with exaggerated flaps, and calling loudly. They often nest solitarily, although they may join colonies with other Green Herons or with other species. They defend breeding areas from each other and from birds like crows and grackles that prey on their nests. The male begins building the nest before pairing up to breed, but afterward passes off most of the construction to his mate. As the male gathers long, thin sticks, the female shapes them into a nest 8–12 inches across, with a shallow depression averaging less than 2 inches deep. The nest varies from solid to flimsy, and has no lining. The clutch is usually 2–6 pale green eggs, which are laid in 2-day intervals (though the second egg may be laid up to 6 days later than the first). After the last egg has been laid, both parents incubate for about 19–21 days until hatching, and feed the young birds. The frequency of feedings decreases as the offspring near fledging. The young sometimes start to leave the nest at 16 days of age, but are not fully fledged and able to fend for themselves until 30–35 days old. Green Herons are still common, but they have suffered a gradual decline of 1.6 percent per year from 1966–2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. That annual rate corresponds to a cumulative drop of 53 percent. Declines have been recorded across most of their range, with only California populations showing an increase in that time. Nevertheless, threats to the species are still rated as low enough for the species to be categorized as low concern for North America by the Waterbird Species Conservation Status Assessment. In the past, people hunted Green Herons for food and controlled their numbers near fish hatcheries, where the herons were perceived as a threat to the fish. Today, their biggest threat is probably habitat loss through the draining or development of wetlands, although no one knows the extent of this impact because these herons are solitary and widely dispersed. References: Wikipedia, Cornell Lab of Ornithology