May 30, 2022

Over the weekend I did something I had not done since we acquired Zena, I went fishing.  Lately my time seems split between work, writing, and caring for the garden and yard.  When we got Zena, she became another time expense that needed attention.  It was not a bad thing, just a thing.  Melissa encouraged me to get out several times, but I knew I already left them alone went to work, and Melissa had to care for her.  Zena is settling in and can now be left for periods when we go somewhere together.  Fishing had been on my mind for several weeks (and several dreams), and that was not abated by my son sending a photo of the 30 Kokanee (land locked salmon) he and three friends caught last week.  When Melissa again suggested I get out of the house I agreed.  One creek I stopped at had hundreds of minnows feeding on the surface.  I also noticed a green heron hunting along the dam overflow.  While I only caught a few small fish, I was able to add a photograph of a green heron to my birder list for the third straight year.

When I looked online, I found the green heron (Butorides virescens) is a small heron of North and Central America.  Butorides is from Middle English butor “bittern” and Ancient Greek -oides, “resembling”, and virescens is Latin for “greenish”.  The adult heron is relatively small with a body length of 17 inches (44 cm) and the neck is often pulled in tight against the body.  Adults have a glossy, greenish-black cap, a greenish back and wings that are grey-black grading into green or blue, a chestnut neck with a white line down the front, grey underparts, and short yellow legs.  The bill is dark with a long, sharp point.  Female adults tend to be smaller than males, and have duller and lighter plumage, particularly in the breeding season.  Juveniles are duller, with the head sides, neck and underparts streaked brown and white, tan-splotched back and wing coverts, and greenish-yellow legs and bill.  The year-round habitat is in small wetlands in low-lying areas along the coasts of the southern US, with breeding territory ranging into eastern US and winter range moving into Mexico.  The species is most conspicuous during dusk and dawn and prefer to retreat to sheltered areas in daytime but do feed actively during the day if hungry or provisioning young.  

The green heron mainly eats small fish, frogs, and aquatic arthropods, but may take other small prey they can catch.  They are intolerant of other birds when feeding and do not forage in groups.  They typically stand still on shore or in shallow water or perch upon branches and await prey.  Sometimes they drop food, insects, or other small objects on the water’s surface to attract fish, making them one of the few known tool-using species.  This feeding method has led some to title the green and closely related striated heron as among the world’s most intelligent birds.  The northern population moves to its breeding ranges during March and April, and even in the northernmost limit of the green heron’s range, breeding is well underway by the end of May.  Migration to the winter quarters starts in September and by late October the birds have moved out of the northern range.  The northward migration does not seem to be affected by global warming, as the birds appear in their breeding ranges at the same time as they did 100 years ago.

THOUGHTS:  I was excited my first year as a birder to have a green heron visit our house.  Our broken pool was uncovered and had become more of a pond, complete with frogs and tadpoles.  One morning I saw the heron hunting along the pool edge.  The bird stayed several days, and then left.  The next year another heron (same?) appeared around the same time and feasted several days.  These were the first two times I recall seeing a green heron, and I was happy to again see one in as new location this year.  Using tools was thought to be the difference between humans until the 1970’s.  Then we paid attention and found other species not only use but make tools to use for feeding.  Either these animals are sentient, or we are not as smart as we thought we were.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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