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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.

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

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

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

Nesting: 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.

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

Migration: 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: Least Bittern

Status: Populations of Green Heron are generally stable to increasing.  The species may be increasing its range to the north and west.  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 out in the open.  Water in the WPA is generally very uniformly shallow, allowing Green Herons to forage well away from the shoreline vegetation which often hides there 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) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Green Heron

2) Audubon Guide- Green Heron

3) Green Heron

Photo Information: August 1st, 2008 - Dewey Gevik Nature Areain southeastern South Dakota - Terry Sohl

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


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
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