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The Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is a common migrant and summer resident here in south-eastern Wisconsin. Arriving between mid-April and late May, these flashy little waders choose to nest secretly and in solitude, or sometimes in small, loosely associated colonies on quiet wetland islands in marshes or along pond shores and slow flowing streams with rich habitat.

This spring I noted my first 2012 sighting of a Green Heron down on the bend of the river on May 31st.

photo by Jean Upton

Masters of concealment.

I love old literature [Birds of America, 1936].

Green Herons are dismissed by some as gawky, awkward, and rather stupid birds with habits that are not exactly tidy. This is because he is usually only seen when he utters his harsh alarm note and flops clumsily along to a nearby perch, where he stretches his neck, jerks his tail, and gazes around in a fuddle-headed manner.
Ouch! Fuddle-headed? That's a bit harsh.

The only real requirement a Green Heron seems to have is some modicum of cover in the wetland. Indeed, this species is so adept at concealing itself that its habit of flushing suddenly from hiding with a loud cry and a stream of white excrement has given it a number of colorful common names – 'skeow', 'fly-up-the-creek', 'chalk-line' and 'shite-polk' are a few of my favorites. I'm thinking, maybe this brisk release of white bird-poo, just might be a predator diversion program. Or maybe not.

photo by Jean Upton


photo by Jean Upton

The legs of the male turn orange when these little loners pair up. His mate will lay 3 to 5 pale sea-green eggs on a frail nest platform of loosely piled sticks and twigs in a tree or bush, near or overhanging water. Both parents share nest building and incubation duties, with the eggs hatching in about 20-21 days. Green Heron pairs remain monogamous throughout the breeding season.

photo by Jean Upton

The youngsters leave the nest at 16 or 17 days post-hatching, are flying at 21 to 22 days and are self-sufficient and independent by the end of 30 to 35 days. Their parents often raise a second clutch.

photo by Jean Upton

Far from being stupid or clumsy, these stealthy little stalkers thread their way silently through vegetation to fish the shallows. They use favorite perches just above the water and visit raised rocks or turtle basking logs.

They pose motionless, waiting long moments for prey to come within striking distance. The strike is lightning swift and accurate. How do they stuff that long sleek neck back into that stubby body?

photo by Jean Upton

These wily little herons are opportunistic feeders, feasting mainly on small fish. Frogs, leeches, worms, salamanders, bugs, crayfish, snakes and other great side-dishes are also on the menu.

Apparently, Painted Turtles aren't.

photo by Jean Upton

Green Herons are one of the few birds that use tools. Some have been observed using feathers, broken sticks, earthworms and insects as bait to draw small fish in closer.

photo by Jean Upton

Clever, clever, tool-using bird!

photo by Jean Upton


photo by Jean Upton

Photos by my talented sister-in-law Jean Upton

Originally posted to Birds and Birdwatching on Sun Nov 04, 2012 at 06:16 AM PST.

Also republished by Backyard Science, Badger State Progressive, and J Town.

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