Green Heron, the Smallest of the Heron Family by Alex Feldstein
The Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is a small stocky solitary wading bird. Their habitat is wetlands and marshes in Central and North America. It is a sister species of the Striated Heron, (Butorides striata), also known as Little Heron, which is also considered the smallest species as they are almost alike, except for some coloring.
Adult body length is about 40 cm with a wingspan of 63 cm. Coloring is greenish back and wings with a greenish-black cap, with yellow legs. The neck can extend to several times their size as when pulled in against the body.
While normally hunting for small fish and vertebrates (frogs, leeches, and even small mice) in wetlands, they are also known to spend time on rocks and branches near the shore. In my area, as I live in South Florida near the beach, I see them often at my local fishing jetty. They hunt for small sardines which are plentiful, even stealing some from the local fishermen’s buckets when they can.
They usually hunt alone and do not tolerate other birds in their hunting area. We have four green herons at my location at the beach, and when one has taken an area on a big rock to hunt, it will squawk and peck at any approaching bird or competitor to get them out of there.
Green herons have a peculiar way of hunting. They can stay motionless for long periods of time, perching on a low branch or a rock near the water. When they spot prey in a split-second they lash out and catch it. Then they do the “flip” common to all wetlands and wading birds, to position the prey (usually fish) parallel to their beaks so they can gulp it down. They are fun to watch and will let you come fairly close in Florida for shots with a 300 mm lens or so.
When startled, they fly fast and low over the water to another perching place. I usually follow them to the new spot and slowly approach trying to get into a new shooting position. Getting good shots of these birds takes a lot of patience, but it is well worth the reward. In-flight are difficult as they fly fast and low to escape danger, but I have been lucky a few times.
My best shots were always when approaching quietly and slowly, in a non-threatening manner. Patience is the key. Often times I get near enough to get good close-up shots.
Hiding behind the lens works well. Consider that as you generally try to position the bird in the best possible light, often times the sun will be at your back, or close to. This means when they look up to you, they see you backlit. If you are not moving you might as well be a rock or other non-threatening stationary object. The fact that the object wasn’t there before is immaterial to them. Movement is what they are evolutionary trained to look for and recognize as danger, or prey.
When you are out on some marshes or wetlands, look for these beautiful birds. With patience, you’ll be rewarded.