Green Herons Are Our Smallest Heron
by Ro Wauer
Summertime is also green heron time, for then is when these little herons can often be seen flying about, going about their business of finding food for a growing family. Most sightings of flying birds are of a rather plump body with a protruding head and bill. A closer observation of a bird perched on the ground or on a limb reveals a chunky bird with rather short greenish legs, greenish-blue back, rusty chest, black cap, and a long but heavy bill. When perched over water, it can take a waiting position that seems impossible for it to maintain its balance. If waiting or stalking doesn't work, it may actually use "bait," dropping a twig or bark into the water to lure a fish within striking distance. Green herons also are known to search for prey by raking the muddy bottom of small ponds with a backward stroke and awaiting for disturbed prey.
Their diet is varied, for they are opportunists that can utilize almost every living thing smaller than they are, and ranging from tiny fish and frogs to snails, various insects, and even earthworms. They spend considerable time searching for prey in marshy habitats, where they often are very secretive and quiet. When disturbed, however, they can explode from cover with loud squawks, like sow" or "skeow!" They may then fly to a nearby perch, flick their tail, and chastise the interloper with loud stuttering "ku-ku-kuku-kuku" notes.
Nesting can occur in small groups or as an isolated pair. Some nests are placed considerable distance from choice feeding sites. Site selection is undertaken by the male, who then perches nearby and calls repeatedly to attract a mate. Once courtship begins, according to Kent Rylander's "The Behavior of Texas Birds," he displays before his lady by stretching "his neck forward and down, audibly snaps his stout bill, and points it upward while swaying his body back and forth. He also erects his neck plumes, swells his throat, and hops from foot to foot." Once nestlings are present, both parents feed the young, but the precocial youngsters leave the nest only about two weeks after hatching and begin climbing about the adjacent branches. They are self-sufficient in about 35 days.
Green heron are common summer residents throughout the eastern two-thirds of Texas, especially common along the Gulf Coast region, but are less abundant westward. They usually arrive in our area in id- to late March and are usually gone by November. Occasionally they can be found during mild winters. Most overwinter to the south in Mexico and Central America to Panama.
They are one of our most common summer waterbirds, even occasionally flying over towns in route to and from feeding sites. They can be calm and quite or that can be one of our loudest and most obvious residents. Green herons are truly fascinating birds!