The Green Heron's Fascinating Hunting Instincts
Sagacity and Intrepidness at its Best
By N. Michelle Rodríguez Amadeo
Issue: June 2021
Ever since the first time I carefully observed a green heron (“martinete” in Spanish) (Butorides virescens), I have been impressed by its determinedness expression. I have always perceived the green heron as an assertive and confident bird, considering its ability to stand still and focused on catching prey. I have admired how this relatively small bird projects being fearless and in control. So I decided to learn more about the green heron. Guess what? Behind the green heron’s bold and single-minded looks, lies a very intelligent, independent, and strategy-wise bird when it comes to hunting. Keep reading and you will find out why.
The green heron, which ordinarily lives around streams, rivers, channels, mangroves, reservoirs, ponds, saltwater or freshwater marshes or calm-ocean coasts, generally searches for food alone. + It stands statically on low branches, riverbanks or near other bodies of water inhabited and watches for its soon-to-be prey such as fish, frogs, freshwater shrimps (river shrimps), crab, small lizards, insects or other invertebrates.
A very interesting characteristic is that the green heron is one of the few bird species that uses natural resources and organisms as bait. Leaves, twigs, worms and flies are among the things strategically picked by this bird to attract small fish. The green heron drops the bait in water, awaits and suddenly catches fish with its very long straight dark bill.
It is amazing how this bird applies disguise tactics, taking advantage of some of its traits. For instance, the green heron tucks in its neck against its body while standing by to get its prey but when it is time to strike, it surprises victims as it stretches its very long neck. ++ This is why it can quickly grab fish after placing bait. Also, this bird hides among vegetation on riverbanks or shores, making good use of its plumage’s natural camouflage colors: green-grayish and dark blue feathers on wings and back as well as chestnut-colored feathers mostly on neck and chest. It seems as if this strategist bird was aware how these colors aid hiding among leaves and branches.
The green heron’s bravery and wisdom are truly fascinating. So next time you see this admirable bird, do not take it for granted. Quietly get your camera, appreciate this bird’s beauty and behavior, and enjoy the moment.
+ The green heron breeds throughout the year and can be seen across the United States (except several mid-western states), Central America, northern South America and islands in the West Indies region surrounded by Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
++ Once the green heron reveals its neck, you can see its actual 16-to-18-inch body length (41-46 cm length).
Sources: (1) Oberle, Mark W, Las Aves de Puerto Rico en Fotografías, 2nd Ed., Editorial Humanitas, 2006, (2) The Wildlife of Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, Environmental Div., DPW, Fort Buchanan, P.R., and Engineer and Development Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (accessed through https://home.army.mil/buchanan/index.php/download_file/view/695/5490), (3) “Green Heron”, eBird, https://ebird.org species/grnher, (4)”Green Heron Life History”, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birds of the Worlds, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Green_Heron/lifehistory,(5)“Green Heron Identification”, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birds of the Worlds, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Green_Heron/id#, (6) Bergin, Mike, “Green Herons and their Groovy Necks”, 10,000 Birds, https://www.10000birds.com/green-herons-and-their-groovy-necks.htm, 2011, and (7), Castro-Prieto, Jessica, Wunderle, Joseph M., Jr., Salguero-Faría, José, Soto-Bayó, Sandra, Crespo-Zapata, Johann D., and Gould William A., “The Puerto Rico Breeding Bird Atlas”, Gen. Technical Report IITF-53, International Inst. of Tropical Forestry, Forest Service, USDA, May 2021 (accessed through https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/gtr/gtr_iitf_053.pdf).
Photo by N. Michelle Rodríguez Amadeo