Green Heron

Butorides virescens
Range Map

Though only rarely found outside their normal range, the Green Heron is a native to North and Central America. On the North American west coast they are resident year-round throughout most of California, but will summer along the Pacific slope zone as far north as southern British Columbia. We do not expect these birds in the intermountain states, but are common breeders in the eastern USA from the Mississippi Valley to the eastern seaboard.

Green Herons are among the few bird species to use tools. We have observed them dropping sticks, bread and other floating material in shallow water to lure in fish, and capture their curious prey as they come within striking distance.

Most of my meetings with these small herons have been in Southern California. During my first visit to Texas in the spring of 2020, I had a rewarding encounter with Green Herons while visiting Aransas NWR on the Central Gulf coast. Then in 2021, on South Padre Island’s Bird and Nature Center, I met them while they were nesting in Black Mangrove trees.

In the early 1900s, studies by Harry Oberholser called out 18 subspecies. Today, that number has been reduced to four. The debate over this taxonomy continues to this day.

  • B. v. anthonyi – Breeds in central and eastern USA, from North Dakota and Texas and east to southeastern Canada, south to Panama and the Caribbean
  • B. v. bahamensis Lives in the Bahamas
  • B. v. frazari – Southern Baja California Peninsula (Mexico)
  • B. v. virescens Breeds from southeastern Canada to central and southern US east of the Rocky Mountains, and winters from southern USA to northern South America.

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