[order] Ciconiiformes | [family] Ardeidae | [latin] Butorides virescens | [UK] Green Heron | [FR] Héron vert | [DE] Grünreiher | [ES] Garcita verdosau | [IT] Airone verde | [NL] Kleine Groene Reiger

Kleine Groene Reiger determination

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Green herons are small and stocky, with legs that are relatively short, compared to other herons. Body length ranges from 41 to 46 cm. Adults have a glossy greenish-black cap and back, wings that are black grading into green and/or blue on the edges, and underparts that are gray. The bill is dark with a long, sharp point and the legs are orange. Female adults tend to be smaller, with duller and lighter plumage than that seen in males, particularly in the breeding season.
Coloration of immature herons is different. The neck and chest are striped with white and shades of brown. The back is also brown with white and beige spots. The coloration of immature and adult birds is quite cryptic in dense vegetation.

Green herons live along forested water margins. Their general distribution is limited by the availability of wetlands. They frequent both salt and fresh water, showing great flexibility in habitat choice. Favored habitats are mangrove-lined shores and estuaries, and dense, woody vegetation fringing ponds, rivers and lakes.

Green herons have a wide range in North America, but are generally found near wetlands. They occur as far north as southern Canada and as far south as northern South America. They are found throughout the eastern United States as far west as North Dakota and the Great Plains states, although some sedentary populations occur on the west coast. During the breeding season they are found primarily in the eastern United States, with some populations in the Pacific Northwest as well. Non-breeding individuals are found in Mexico and Central America, Texas, southern New Mexico and Arizona, and the Caribbean islands. Small vagrant populations winter in Hawaii and the United Kingdom. Some populations migrate and others are sedentary populations. Sedentary populations occur along the east and west coasts of the United States and Central America. Most populations in North America, however, are migratory. After breeding they disperse southwards, in mid-September. Spring migration occurs from March to April, an earlier arrival than most other herons.

Green herons are carnivorous, mainly eating fish and invertebrates. They are opportunistic foragers with a broad prey base, depending on the availability of species present. They exploit superabundant food resources, such as breeding frogs. Their invertebrate diet includes: leeches, earthworms, dragonflies, damselflies, waterbugs, grasshoppers, and crayfish. Some of the many fish eaten are: minnows, sunfish, catfish, perch, eels, and, in urban areas, goldfish. Other vertebrates eaten are rodents, lizards, frogs, tadpoles, and snakes. Their heavy bill enables them to capture large prey. Feeding can take place at any time, day or night. Typically, prey is captured with a darting stroke of the head and neck, lunging the body towards the victim and either grabbing or impaling the prey.
Among North American diurnal herons, green herons exhibit the fewest kinds of feeding behaviors. They are known to use 15 of the 36 heron feeding behaviors. The most common feeding technique is to stand in a crouched position, horizontal to the water surface, with neck and head retracted. They stand still for long periods of time before changing sites. Standing is often interspersed with slow walking in a crouched posture in the water or bordering vegetation. Herons use their feet to cause potential prey to move and then capture them. They may also dive from perches head first into deep water, becoming submerged, although this isn't a very efficient method. The greatest capture success is in shallowest water (0-10 cm) and the poorest success is in deeper water (20-30 cm).
Green herons are one of the few tool-using birds. They use a variety of baits and lures, such as crusts of bread, mayflies, and feathers. They then put the bait on the water surface and wait for prey to attack the bait. They stand motionless near the bait until a small fish or other animal approaches and then grab the prey. Success rates have been highest when live bait was used versus inanimate or dead bait. Juvenile herons are not as adept at baiting prey.

This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 7,900,000 km². The global population size has not been quantified, but it is believed to be large as the species is described as 'common' in at least parts of its range (Stotz et al. 1996). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]

Green herons are seasonally monogamous. Courtship displays are stereotyped. They begin with Flying Around displays resembling natural flight, but oriented to breeding sites with skow calls. From here, courtship becomes aggressive. Pursuit Flight, Circle Flight and Forward displays are used, where a rasping 'raah-raah' call exposes the red mouth-lining. Crooked-Neck Flight displays are more aggressive, where the neck is partially flexed, legs are dangled, and wingbeats are audible. Much like the Crooked-Neck Display, the Flap Flight Display shows the greatest intensity of flight displays. Here, the male lurches through the air with exaggerated flapping producing a whoom-whoom-whoom sound in a crooked-neck posture with crest, neck, and scapular feathers erect and often giving a roo-roo call before landing.
Nonaerial displays are interspersed with display flights. In the Snap Display, the male perches, then points body, head and neck down until bill tip is at or below the level of his feet and then snaps his mandibles together, producing a click while also erecting his feathers. The Stretch Display involves the male pointing his bill straight up, stretching his neck, and then bending it backwards until the head almost touches its back with interscapular plumes erect and fanned. In this posture, he sways his neck and head from side to side with crest, breast, and flank feathers sleeked back, eyes bulging, and iris possibly turning from yellow to deep orange while emitting an aaroo-aaroo sound.
After the last egg is laid, copulations cease and incubation persists for 19-21 days. A normal clutch is 2 to 4 eggs, laid in 2-day intervals. Fledging occurs when chicks are 16 to 17 days old, and independence is gained between 30 and 35 days. Both adults feed and brood chicks, though at less frequent intervals as the chicks become more independent.

The Green Heron breeds throughout the eastern continental United States, inland from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and along the Pacific coast south to Central America and the West Indies. Most birds arrive on their breeding grounds in April.
Only the northernmost populations migrate, and in winter end up along the Gulf coast and southern ocean coasts and into Mexico and Central America