Green Heron

The Green Heron is a bird that looks rather plain from a distance until you come closer. They have a striking, iridescent back. They are solitary birds and are quite elusive of human beings, but their patient demeanors have captured the interests of the entire birding community either way. These birds are common and widespread throughout the wetlands of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, and are difficult to spot despite their abundance in numbers. They wade through shallow waters and gracefully swim with the help of their webbed toes.

About Green Herons

These birds are also fascinating for their ability to use tools, making them one of the only species in the world that is able to do this. It can create fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, before dropping them on the surface of the water to lure small fish towards them. Occasionally, they may dive into deep water to find prey as well. While there is still a lot left to be understood when it comes to these intelligent birds, every new detail that emerges is fascinating.

● Green Heron Photos, Color Pattern, Song
● Green Heron Size, Eating Behavior, Habitat
● Green Heron Range and Migration

Green Heron Color Pattern

Adult Green Herons appear to be completely dark from a distance but have a glossy greenish-black cap and back when observed from up close. Their wings are black and emit a greenish or bluish cast, features that seem to stand out in contrast to their gray underparts. The edges of their feathers are a buff color, while the neck is a rufous shade. They have orange legs and dark bills, with greenish-black crests that stand upright. Males and females look similar to each other, but the plumes of females tend to be far duller. There may be geographical variation in the degree of sexual dimorphism they exhibit.

Juveniles have brown stripes on their necks and below. Their back is brownish with buff spots, their distinct shape and size distinguish them from other bird species. The color pattern of these birds has clearly evolved for an undisturbed, solitary life by camouflaging within the dense vegetation of the wetlands.

Description and Identification

These birds are harder to identify with the naked eye. Along the edges of the vegetation scattered throughout wetlands, keep your ear out for a singular “keow” by the water banks. Once you trace the call to their general area, you must focus on flashes of movement under the vegetation. In flight, these birds are far more distinctive as they often resemble a tailless Crow. Sometimes, they unfold their necks during flight, another distinctive feature that can help you identify them.

Green Heron Song

Their vocal range has not been extensively studied but seems to be fairly diverse but not too complex. Their calls typically sounds like a “skow” or “keow”, which they make as a flight or alarm call. When these birds are attacked by Hawks, they give repeated “squawks”. Those disturbed at their nests let out a “ku-ku-ku-ku-ku-ku” or “skuk-skuk-skuk-skuk”. They may even let out strong and hostile calls that sound like “raah-raahs”. Males during the breeding seasons also let out a “show-ch” or an “ow-ch” to advertise their territories and their presence. They also make a low-pitch “skow” from the top of the tree or from another perch with its bill tilted up at a 45-degree angle.

Green Heron Size

Green Herons are short compared to other Herons, having a body length of 16.1–18.1 inches. They are stocky birds that weigh approximately 8.5 ounces, with broad, rounded wings that have a wingspan of 25.2–26.8 inches. They have relatively short legs and thick necks that seem tightly scrunched against their bodies. Their bills are heavy, long, and daggerlike, ideal for picking up slippery fish. Sometimes, they may even raise their crown feathers in an erectile manner to form a short crest.

Green Heron Behavior

Green Herons maintain slow movements while they forage, with their heads and necks retracted or extended while they remain virtually motionless in order to draw prey in. They walk slowly over branches and roots, sometimes hopping from one to another. When they walk, they lift their crests up and down while doing the same to their tails. They generally walk to a shrub on the ground before jumping and taking flight. They swim with the help of their webbed middle and outer toes, while they sit upright like a Swan.

Each breeding season, the birds pair up with one mate. Males perform courtship displays that include stretching their necks, snapping their bills, flying with exaggerated flaps, and calling loudly. They nest solitarily and generally stay away from other Green Herons but may sometimes nest with other birds of their own and other species’ colonies during breeding seasons. Green Herons get highly defensive of their territories and actively protect their nests from predators like Crows, Grackles, snakes, and raccoons by attacking and intimidating them. They also drive away species like American Coots if they get too close to the nests.

These birds may get extremely aggressive if intruders do not draw away. Aggressive males peck at each other’s heads, flail with their wings and stab from a horizontal stance if a fellow Green Heron or another bird encroaches onto their territory. They may also try to replace their opponent from their perches, a behavior that is common during the nesting season.

Green Heron Diet

Green Herons are primarily piscivores that mainly feed on small fish. Their most commonly consumed prey includes minnows, sunfish, catfish, pickerel, carp, perch, gobies, shad, silverside, eels, and goldfish. They also consume other prey like terrestrial and aquatic insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, reptiles, rodents, and amphibians like frogs. Green Herons typically forage by walking slowly in shallow water and remaining motionless until prey approaches, they use basic tools that bait their prey towards them. They hunt at all times of the day, wading through the shallow waters of swamps, creeks, marshes, ditches, ponds, and mangroves. Although they generally forage through thick vegetation in water that is less than 4 inches deep, they may dive down to catch prey on rare occasions. The main rationale behind regularly avoiding deeper and open areas might be to avoid competition with longer-legged Herons.

Green Heron Habitat

These birds breed in coastal and inland wetlands, primarily along marshes, swamps, lakes, ponds, streamside areas, impoundments. Other wet habitats with trees and shrubs provide secluded nest sites. You can often find them along freshwater lands but they adapt to brackish wetlands as well. They may nest in dry woods, orchards, and willow thickets as well if there is a water body nearby. Green Herons at the southern regions of their range winter in coastal areas, inhabiting both marine and freshwater wetlands with complete ease. You can find these birds in tropical areas, specifically in mangrove swamps.

Range and Migration

Green Herons breed across the eastern half of the United States, along with its Pacific Coast. Flocks that breed in these areas tend to be medium-distant migrants due to the harsher climates during the winters, with their migrations taking them towards Mexico and Central America. Eastern breeders migrate through Florida, the Gulf Coast, and the Caribbean, while western breeders head to their wintering grounds through Mexico. However, a large number of their tropical populations along the Pacific coasts of Mexico, Central America, and the southern United States, and the Atlantic shorelines around Florida and other southern states, Mexico, and the Caribbean are permanent residents of their breeding habitats that do not migrate. Green Herons may also wander around regionally after breeding and before migrating, presumably in order to obtain more food sources.

Green Heron Lifecycle

After pairing, females may have one or two broods in the season, with each brood having a clutch size of 2–7 pale blue-green eggs. Both parents incubate their eggs for 19–21 days. Both parents also feed their young by regurgitation after they hatch. The young ones begin to wander around the nest when they are 16-17 days old. They can usually swim well by this stage. Most of them make their first flight by 21-23 days after they hatch. Even after they learn to fly, parents continue to feed them for a few more weeks.


At the start of the breeding season, males advertise their territories and select a secluded site within it for nesting. The nest site is typically in a large fork of a tree or bush, with overhanging branches to conceal the nest. They may utilize a number of plant species to nest in, including pines, oaks, willows, box elders, cedar, honey locust, hickory, sassafrass, and mangroves. The nest is almost always on or over the water, being up to half a mile from the water in a few cases. The nest site can range from being at ground level to about 30 feet or higher above the ground.

Males begin constructing the nest before pairing with their mates but pass off the remainder of the work to their mates after copulation. After the males gather long and thin sticks, females shape them into a nest that is 8–12 inches across, with a shallow depression that is less than 2 inches deep. The nest may be solid or flimsy and generally has no inner lining. These birds build in the abandoned nests of Black-crowned Night-Herons or Snowy Egrets when available but may also reuse their old nests in many cases. Throughout breeding seasons, they continually add sticks and other pieces of solid material to keep the nest firm and insulated.

Anatomy of a Green Heron

Adults are small and stocky with a daggerlike bill and a thick neck that is drawn into their bodies. They have comparatively short legs and broad, rounded wings that make them resemble tailless crows sometimes. They also have crown feathers that can be raised into a short crest on occasions. Adults have a deep green back and crown, and a chestnut neck and breast.

Final Thoughts

These unique birds are fortunately still commonly found, but their populations have suffered a gradual decline of over 1.5% per year from 1966, resulting in a total decline of 68% over the years. Historically, they were frequently hunted for food as they were a popular commodity. Their numbers were also controlled near fish hatcheries, as they were considered to be a threat to the fish. Although the practice of hunting them has greatly died down, their biggest threats today are habitat loss through the draining and development of wetlands. Because these Herons are solitary and widely dispersed, it is hard to accurately gauge the impact of this on their populations.

Green Herons may be elusive and solitary, but they sometimes visit ornamental fish ponds. If a drainpipe is placed in the pond, it may be able to provide small fish a place to hide from feeding Herons. These complex creatures are as mysterious as they are intelligent, with birders knowing far lesser about them than they would like. Although they are not the easiest to catch sight of, patience and knowledge of their characteristics might reward vigilant observers with excerpts of them in their natural habitats.


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for IdentifyingGreen Herons

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Green Herons are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Green Heron Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Green Heron. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders ForGreen Herons

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Bird HousesForGreen Herons

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. If you spend a little extra money on bird houses, it will be well worth every penny and they’ll look great.

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