The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Green Heron
Bill Lindemann, Fredericksburg Standard/Radio Post, Kerrville Daily Times, June 2003, © 2003

Lurking somewhere along a water area near you this summer will be the smallest of the shore patrol of egrets and herons stealthily searching for a fish, frog, large insect or anything else looking attractive - as a meal. Most of the Green Heron's length (size) is divided among its feet, neck and bill; what is left could be described as "chunky." Egrets and herons could best be described as appearing graceful rather than being beautiful, but the Green Heron has a colorful array of plumage feathers.

Its former name, "Green-backed Heron," more aptly describes its appearance, as most of the remaining parts of the heron are chestnut-brown, yellow and orange. Its back is more blue-green than green coloring which looks good with its dark crown. Its breast is a rich chestnut color that contrasts with its whitish belly. Mother Nature gave it a light central breast stripe to help it blend into the grassy areas where it hunts. The bird's feet are generally yellowish green, but during the breeding season the male's legs
turn orange.

Young Green Herons have streaked breast pattering, which helps them hide from their predators until they have learned all the survival skills. Nature has many schemes to protect young and immature birds and animals. Most prevalent it is plumage camouflage, but other protection schemes include young being odorless to avoid leaving any scent. A bird's greatest survival
risk is during its earliest days of existence.

The Green Heron is a summer resident of the eastern one-half of the country, in the southwest area and along the western coast. It winters in Florida, the Gulf coast, northwest Mexico and up the Pacific coast. A couple winters ago, one decided it was not up to traveling south and settled in at the lake in Lady Bird Johnson Park in Fredericksburg. We had a light winter (did it know this in advance?) and it survived in good shape. Often wildlife seem to be better long range weather forecasters than humans.

Most summers I have had one set up territory along Live Oak Creek on my place, so I have enjoyed watching it hunt along the water's edge. The viewing is best when it thinks that I haven't seen him and he goes through his normal hunting routine. Ever vigilant for anything that moves in or near the water, this heron displays extreme patience and goes into his super slow motion mode. His neck is coiled and ready to strike whenever his prey gets within reach. With feet firmly planted, the head and bill propel forward into the fish or small frog. Success reigns more often than failure.

If you surprise a Green Heron while it is hunting, the bird will let out a loud "skee-op" as it takes flight. It also sends out a burst of "white-wash" as it gets airborne; maybe the heron uses this action much like our spacecraft use rocket boosters on take-off. This act has brought the bird some less than desirable nick-names, but to them making a successful escape is more important than picking up a colorful name. Green Herons take refuge in trees during the day to sleep and rest until they are ready to resume hunting.

If you see one of these diminutive herons, take some time and watch it perform its slow motion, sneak up and attack routines. You will enjoy, if you are as patient as the hunter.


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