I have always been amazed at the life of the great blue heron. In fact, I almost seem to take it for granted as I see them virtually every time I head out in the valley. However I finally chanced upon seeing a new member of the heron family that is much more difficult to locate, but they still are out there. At last, I saw my first Green Heron locally recently, and what a lovely sight it was! Always thinking “heron” means “big bird” can be confusing here, as these are the smallest of the heron family (well, Least Bitterns are a member of the heron family as well and slightly smaller normally). They are usually only 16-20” in length.
The Green Heron lives in typical swamp land, marshes, river banks, and other similar areas of the valley where you might see the normal reeds/marsh grasses/cattails of an environment. It is a quite solitary bird, normally feeding alone or possibly in a pair with its mate. It normally is very difficult to locate and notice as it will stand motionless while stalking its lunch. Indeed, normally it is first noticed when it suddenly flushed unexpectedly with a loud squawking call which is what happened to me! They prey on a wide assortment of things ranging from small fish, frogs, even insects. This diversity allows them more flexibility to breed on ponds inland further which are much smaller than those needed by other herons. The one I saw was utilizing a small swampland area not more than 50’ in diameter!
I can see how they could be confused with the Black-crowned Night Heron since it does have a rather dark black crown on its head. However the dark green/blue wings and a colored chest are far different than the white chest of the night heron. The Green Heron is fascinating to me as it is one of a very few critters in our bird world which is known as a “tool-using” bird. By this, it utilizes using “bait” such as crumbs, insects, worms, then drops them on the water’s surface and then proceed to nab the small fish which is attracted to the “bait” on the water. Amazing! Things like this solidify even more my pure joy in a lifelong passion to learn about our natural world and the biology behind it. Keep letting me know what you are seeing out there as we head into the autumn season soon! Every day might be a surprise waiting to happen!