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Green Heron

Butorides virescens

Length: 20 inches Wingspan: 26 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Dark bluish-green  back, orange-yellow legs, chestnut neck, dark crown feathers.

Green Heron - Butorides virescensGreen Herons are less gregarious heron than many heron and egret species, and at times, are quite shy and difficult to approach.  Green Herons are generally solitary, nesting as isolated pairs or small groups, never in the large breeding colonies of other herons and egrets.  Despite their more solitary nature, they are a quite common species throughout much of the eastern half of the United States.


 Can be found in nearly any aquatic habitat, but prefers small water bodies with both dense emergent vegetation and open water.


Mostly small fish.  Also crustaceans, frogs, tadpoles, insects, and small rodents.


Primarily forages by standing perfectly still, and striking when prey moves within range.  Will also walk slowly through the shallows in search of food. 


May and June.  They often are solitary nesters, or sometimes nest in small groups.  The nest itself is a platform of sticks, placed in a tree or shrub. The female usually lays between 3 and 5 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young may fledge as early as 3 weeks after hatching, but typically remain in the care of the parents for a few weeks after fledging.


Crisp skeeow in flight.  Can also give a low irregular series of clucking notes.

1Click here to hear the calls of an agitated Green Heron.

2Click here to hear the shorter flight call of a Green Heron.


Summers throughout most of the eastern half of the United States, near the West Coast, and in scattered locations elsewhere in the West.  Winters near the U.S. West Coast, the Gulf Coast, Mexico, Central America, and South America.  Some southern and western populations in the United States are permanent residents.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Green Heron sightings

Similar Species:

Generally distinctive if seen well, but could potentially be confused with the following stocky wading birds that all could potentially be found in the same habitat.


Populations of Green Heron are generally stable in North America, although there are undoubtedly some local declines due to habitat loss.  The species may be increasing its range to the north and west in recent decades.  The IUCN lists the Green Heron as a species of "Least Concern".

South Dakota "Hotspot":

The Madison Waterfowl Production Area, just to the west of Lake Madison, is a wonderful place to see these sometimes shy birds, sometimes relatively out in the open.  Water in the WPA is generally pretty shallow, often allowing Green Herons to forage well away from the shoreline vegetation which often hides their presence.  In the spring, late summer and early fall, it is also a wonderful location for viewing Great Egrets, American White Pelicans, various shorebirds, Common and Forster's Terns, Franklin's and Bonaparte's Gulls, Great Blue Herons, and the occasional Snowy Egret.

The Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls often has Green Herons that are quite used to people, and seem to be a little more approachable than Green Herons you may find elsewhere.

Further Information:

1) BirdWeb - Green Heron

2) Audubon Guide- Green Heron

3) Green Heron

Photo Information:

May 17th, 2014 - Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Green Heron photos.

Audio File Credits:

1Paul Marvin - Recorded in Everglades National Park, Florida on May 26th, 2014. Original recording and information from xeno-canto.

2Paul Marvin - Recorded in Brevard County, Florida on July 8th, 2016. Original recording and information from xeno-canto.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Green Heron - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon summer resident in the eastern part of the state, rare in the west.

Additional Green Heron Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Green Heron 1 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 2 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 3 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 4 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 5 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 6 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 7 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 8 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 9 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 10 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 11 - Butorides virescensGreen Heron 12 - Butorides virescens