Green Heron

Butorides virescens

A small, stocky wading bird, the Green Heron is common in wet spots across much of North America. It can be difficult to see as it stands motionless waiting for small fish to approach within striking range, but it frequently announces its presence by its loud squawking.

Interesting Information

  • The Green Heron is one of the few tool-using birds. It commonly drops bait onto the surface of the water and grabs the small fish that are attracted. It uses a variety of baits and lures, including crusts of bread, insects, earthworms, twigs, or feathers.

  • The Green Heron is part of a complex of small herons that sometimes are considered one species. When lumped, they are called Green-backed Heron. When split, they are the Green Heron, the widespread Striated Heron, and the Galapagos Heron.

  • As is typical for many herons, the Green Heron tends to wander after the breeding season is over. Most wanderers probably seek more favorable foraging areas and do not travel far. But, occasionally some go farther, with individuals going as far as England and France.


Adult Description

  • Size: 41-46 cm (16-18 in)

  • Wingspan: 64-68 cm (25-27 in)

  • Weight: 240 g (8.47 ounces)

  • Small, dark heron.

  • Long yellowish legs.

  • Long, dark, pointed bill.

  • Long neck often kept pulled in tight to body.

  • Legs and neck long, but shorter than most herons.

  • Greenish black cap on head.

  • Wings blackish with greenish or bluish gloss.

  • Neck rufous.

  • Underparts gray.

  • Wing feathers edged in buff.

  • Legs yellow or yellowish orange; glossy orange during breeding.

  • Slight crest can be raised on back of head.

  • Eyes orange or yellow.

Sex Differences

Sexes similar, but female slightly smaller, duller, and lighter.


Striped brownish on neck and chest. Back brownish with buffy spots.


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Breeds in swampy thickets. Forages in swamps, along creeks and streams, in marshes, ponds, lake edges, salt marshes, ponds and pastures.

Winters mostly in coastal areas, especially mangrove swamps.


Stands still next to water and grabs small fish with explosive dart of head and neck. One of the few birds that uses bait to attract fish, it drops such things as bread crusts, insects, and twigs onto the water.


Small fish, invertebrates, insects, frogs, and other small animals.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Butorides
Species: Butorides virescens
    Subspecies: Butorides virescens anthonyi
  Butorides virescens frazari
  Butorides virescens maculata
  Butorides virescens virescens

Similar Species

  • In flight resembles a crow, but the wing beats are slower, the bunched neck gives it a slightly different shape, and it is reddish on the neck.

  • American Bittern is larger, more robust, more golden brown and lighter, and lacks the dark cap.

  • Least Bittern is smaller, slimmer, has a large pale patch in the wing, and is pale below.

  • Juvenile night-herons are larger and more robust with thicker bills.

Bird Sound

Flight or alarm call an explosive "skeow." Also make series of "kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk" notes.

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution

Bird Sound

Flight or alarm call an explosive "skeow." Also make series of "kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk" notes.


GreenHeron 1

Juvenile in the Rain

GreenHeron 2

Adult in the Shore