Green Heron Bird (Butorides virescens)

Green heron birds

The green heron bird, also called Butorides virescens, green backed heron, greenback heron, or just the green heron, is a medium-sized, approximately 41 – 46 cm long, stocky brown and gray bird with short legs and a short neck, that belongs to the Heron and Egret family, Ardeidae. It was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1758 as Ardea virescens.

The green heron bird (Butorides virescens) is found throughout the entire United States and Canada, as well as Central America, northern South America, the Caribbean islands, and on various Pacific islands.

It can be found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats but will move around in order to find adequate food sources. The green heron bird feeds almost exclusively on aquatic animals, such as insects and smaller fish than larger mammals or reptiles. However, it does hunt occasionally during the night and will consume larger prey when it’s available.


Green heron birds

One of the many birds in America is the green heron bird. They are also called green backed herons because they can be seen in backyards across North America at dawn and dusk during the breeding season. With a wingspan that can reach up to 16 inches, these birds nest in colonies near small streams and waterways.

Green heron scientific name

The scientific name of the green heron bird is Butorides virescens

Green heron habitat

The green heron is one of the most widely distributed species of herons, living on every continent except Antarctica. They live in marshy areas near water and feed mostly at night.

The green heron can grow up to two feet tall and can be found throughout North America from California to Alaska and as far south as Costa Rica. It has blue-gray feathers with a tinge of pink on its neck, chest, and back. The bill is mostly black but has a white stripe towards the bottom edge.

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Green heron size and weight

The size of the green heron birds ranges from 41 to 46 cm (16.1 to 18.1 inches), and weighs around 240 g (8.5 oz), with a wingspan of 64 to 68 cm (25.2 to 26.8 inches).

Feathers and plumage

Green heron birds

An adult’s plumage consists of dark chestnut on the sides and back of the neck, blue-gray and green upper parts, and greenish-black crown feathers.

The throats and underparts of the neck are white, and the legs are bright orange in males that are in the midst of a breeding plumage cycle. Otherwise, males have a dull yellowish-green coloration. Immature birds lack green and blue feathers and have an abundance of brownish plumage.

Immature birds lack green and blue feathers and have an abundance of brownish plumage.

Green Herons are black from afar, but up close, they are dark green with a chestnut-colored chest and neck. The wings are dark gray and juveniles are lighter, with a lighter-colored neck and spots on the wings.


The best time to see green herons during the molting process is between late May and July. This is when their feathers are most worn, making them completely flightless. Green herons don’t typically have very colorful feathers, but once they have molted you will see an explosion of color in their coats as new plumage comes in.

It is also important to note that not all of a green heron’s feathers will be replaced at the same time. They can lose anywhere from one or two downy wing feathers up to six large body feathers at a time.

Nesting behavior

Sometimes Green Herons renovate old nests or build in the nests of Black-crowned Night-Herons or Snowy Egrets. Some of the sticks are taken from nearby old nests and refashioned into new nests. They keep adding sticks to the nests throughout the breeding season.

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Diet and foraging

The green heron feeds mainly on fish and crustaceans, but it also eats insects, frogs, snakes, lizards, small mammals, and even other birds. It has an elongated spear-like bill that is designed to spear prey at the water’s surface or to snatch them up when they come within range.

This bird hunts in shallow water as well as deep water where it moves its legs along the bottom to scare up prey.

Green heron sound and vocal behavior

Green Herons give a piercing and alarmingly high-pitched call that is as distinctive to wetlands as the raven’s to a storm-scrub forest. It is given by the bird either when perched, when in flight, or when a potential predator approaches.

When disturbed at the nest, they give a series of raspy clucks, kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk, as well as grating screams.


Green heron birds

Once mating season arrives, herons choose mates, making loud displays with puffed-up bills in front of females. Forests, marshes, rivers, and lakes are good nesting areas for them.

A typical bird’s nest is made of sticks and sometimes materials found on the ground. Nests can be found high up in shrubs, trees, or right on the ground. It is uncommon for large numbers of these birds to flock together to nest.

There are typically two to six pale green eggs laid in a clutch every two days (although the second egg may appear up to six days after the first). Incubation is conducted by both parents for 19 to 21 days after the last egg is laid before hatching.

During the first 16 days of development, some juvenile green herons start leaving their nests but they have not yet fledged fully and can’t feed themselves for another 30 to 35 days. Breeding occurs twice a year among green herons, particularly in tropical regions.


Green heron birds may live up to 8 years on average.

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Movements and migration

It appears that the green heron is a permanent resident in New York State, and only migrates south in winter. In the summer, they are often seen perched high in trees overlooking ponds or large bodies of water waiting for prey to swim by.

Their long legs allow them to wade quietly into shallow water and snatch their prey before retreating back into the safety of cover. They have also been observed on beaches and mudflats looking for insects or small fish. The green heron has even been observed flying over lawns searching for earthworms!

Diseases and threats

The biggest threats to green herons are collisions with human-made structures such as windows, cars, and fences. These birds also ingest lead from fishing weights and bait. The United States Geological Survey reports that over 1 billion pounds of lead fishing tackle are used annually in this country alone.

Population status

Global breeding populations for this species are estimated to be 1.2 million, and they are rated as low conservation concerns on the Continental Concern Score, which is 12 out of 20.

Conservation and management

Green Heron habitat needs to be assessed under current riparian management guidelines for salmonid conservation.

As a result, more care should be taken when addressing Green Herons’ management needs under the Identified Wildlife Management Strategies chapter of the Forest Practices Code.

This species was once known as the green-backed heron, which lived in the Old World tropics and South America together with the striated heron (which lives in the Galapagos Islands).

They are currently classified as separate species. The scientific nomenclature and common names are carefully matched by ornithologists. It is the scientific names that change when they are able to understand the relationships between species.