Birds – Little Green Heron

(Ardea virescens)


Length—16 to 18 inches; smallest of the herons.

Male and Female—Lengthened crest and crown of head dark green; rest of receding head and neck chestnut red, shading into yellow; brownish ash under parts; throat white, with line of dark spots widening on breast; back, with pointed lengthened feathers between shoulders, is green, or washed with grayish; wings and tail dark green, the coverts of the former outlined with white. Bill long and greenish black. Rather short legs, greenish yellow. Immature birds lack the lengthened feathers on back, are less brilliant, their crests are smaller, and they have black streaks on their under parts.

Range—Tropical and temperate America; nests throughout the United States and far into the British possessions; winters from Gulf states southward.

Season—Summer resident, April to October.

This smallest, most abundant, and most northern heron comes up from the south in lustrous green plumage that gradually loses its iridescence as nesting duties tell upon the physique; but as it is a solitary, shy bird, very few get a close look at its feathers at any time. Delighting in quagmires, where no rubber boot stays on the foot of the pursuer, the little green heron goes deeper and deeper into the swamp, and keeps well concealed among the rushes by day, coming out to the shores of wooded streams and sedgy ponds toward dusk, when often as not the motionless little figure is mistaken for a snag and passed by.

Not a muscle does the bird move while patiently waiting for fish, frogs, and newts to come within striking distance of its sharp bill. With head drawn down between its shoulders, it will stand motionless for more hours than the most zealous bird student cares to spend watching it. Where food is exceedingly abundant, one may sometimes be seen wading around the edge of the pond with slow, well calculated steps, snapping up the little water animals that also become more active as evening approaches.

Startle the lone fisherman, and with a hollow, guttural squawk it springs into the air, but does not flap its wings long before dropping on some old stump or distended branch to learn whether further flight is necessary. There is a certain laziness or languor about all the herons that they have brought from the tropics with them. When perched on a stump, its receding head thrust forward like a stupid, its apology for a tail twitching nervously, one sees the fitness of many of this heron’s popular names. But why is this inoffensive wader held in such general contempt ?

It has been stated by some scientists that, unlike many of its kin, the green heron is always a hermit, rarely seen in couples, and never found in colonies, even at the nesting season; but surely there are enough exceptions to prove the rule. From all points of its large nesting range come accounts of heronries where not only green herons have built their rickety platforms of sticks in the low branches of trees or bushes in communities, but have associated there with different relatives, particularly with the night heron. They begin to build nests, or reline what the winter storms have left of their old ones, about the middle of April. These birds become attached to their nesting sites that they return to generation after generation, and a roost often be-comes equally dear. There are certain favorite trees in localities where the green heron is abundant that one rarely misses finding a bird perched upon.

Why it is that the eggs—pale dull blue, from three to six and the helpless fledgeling do not fall out or through their ram-shackle nursery is a mystery. Indolence characterizes these birds from infancy; for they remain sitting on their haunches in a state of inertia, roused only by visits of their enslaved parents bringing them food, until they are perfectly able to fly, some weeks after hatching.