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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Green Heron

Butorides virescens ORDER: PELECANIFORMES FAMILY: ARDEIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

From a distance, the Green Heron is a dark, stocky bird hunched on slender yellow legs at the water’s edge, often hidden behind a tangle of leaves. Seen up close, it is a striking bird with a velvet-green back, rich chestnut body, and a dark cap often raised into a short crest. These small herons crouch patiently to surprise fish with a snatch of their daggerlike bill. They sometimes lure in fish using small items such as twigs or insects as bait.

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Birds of North America Online

Keys to identification Help

Herons
Herons
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Compared with most herons, Green Herons are short and stocky, with relatively short legs and thick necks that are often drawn up against their bodies. They have broad, rounded wings and a long, daggerlike bill. They sometimes raise their crown feathers into a short crest.

  • Color Pattern

    From a distance Green Herons look all dark. In better light they are deep green on the back with a rich chestnut breast and neck. The wings are dark gray. Juveniles are browner, with pale streaking on the neck and spots on the wings.

  • Behavior

    Green Herons stand motionless at the water’s edge as they hunt for fish and amphibians. They typically stand on vegetation or solid ground, and they don’t wade as often as larger herons. In flight these compact herons can look ungainly, often partially uncrooking their necks to give a front-heavy appearance.

  • Habitat

    Green Herons live around wooded ponds, marshes, rivers, reservoirs, and estuaries.

Range Map Help

Green Heron Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Green Heron

    Adult
    • Small, compact, short-necked heron
    • Often in shaded areas along edges of ponds, walking on fallen logs and branches
    • Dark green crown and paler green back contrast with purple chest
    • Bright yellow legs
    • © Brandohl Photography, Lakeland, Florida, February 2010
  • Adult

    Green Heron

    Adult
    • Stocky, compact heron
    • Dark cap contrasts with brownish purple face and breast
    • Green/gray on back
    • © Brandohl Photography, Lakeland, Florida, March 2010
  • Juvenile

    Green Heron

    Juvenile
    • Small, short-necked heron
    • Usually seen along shaded edges of ponds
    • Long, gray-yellow bill
    • Dark green/gray cap contrasts with purple/brown face and breast
    • © Joel DeYoung, Ottawa County, Michigan, August 2012
  • Adult

    Green Heron

    Adult
    • Stocky and compact, often giving hunchbacked appearance
    • Long, bright yellow legs with more yellow on lores and bill
    • Dark green cap contrasts with purplish brown face and breast
    • Iridescent green/gray on back and wings
    • © Joshua Clark, Brecksville, Ohio, August 2010

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Least Bittern

    Adult
    • Smaller and more delicate than Green Heron
    • Rich, rufous-orange on breast and neck
    • Very secretive and shy
    • © Cleber Ferreira, Viera Wetlands, Florida, December 2010
  • Adult

    Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

    Adult
    • Larger and stockier than Green Heron
    • Shorter, thicker bill
    • Longer legs
    • Boldly striped head
    • © Stephen Pollard, Fort Bend County, Texas, July 2010
  • Adult

    Black-crowned Night-Heron

    Adult
    • Larger and stockier than Green Heron
    • Shorter, thicker bill
    • Pale, whitish gray overall with black cap and back
    • © Robinsegg, Bear River Bird Refuge, Utah, May 2009
  • Adult

    Little Blue Heron

    Adult
    • Larger and more slender-bodied
    • Long, curved neck
    • Solid, slaty blue overall
    • Usually feeds out in the open in marshes and ponds
    • © Doug Sonerholm, Mayaka Lake, Florida, February 2011
  • Adult

    American Bittern

    Adult
    • Larger, thicker-necked, and more barrel-chested
    • Heavily streaked with buff and brown on neck and breast
    • Densely patterned brown and gray on back and wings
    • © Kelly Azar, Chester County, Pennsylvania, April 2011

Similar Species

The Green Heron’s combination of small size, stocky shape, and dark coloration help make it easy to recognize. Least Bitterns are smaller and straw-colored on the neck and wings. American Bittern is substantially larger, thicker-necked, streaked with buff and brown, and lacks the Green Heron’s dark cap. Black-crowned Night-Herons and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are slightly larger, with thicker, shorter bills than Green Herons. Adult night-herons are mostly pale gray; juvenile night-herons lack the reddish-brown-toned neck of a juvenile Green Heron. Larger herons and egrets such as the Little Blue Heron are more slender, with longer legs and neck, giving them a distinctly different silhouette.

Backyard Tips

Green Herons sometimes pay visits to ornamental fish ponds. A length of drain pipe placed in the pond can provide fish with a place to hide from feeding herons.

Find This Bird

Green Herons are common and widespread, but they can be hard to see at first. Whereas larger herons tend to stand prominently in open parts of wetlands, Green Herons tend to be at the edges, in shallow water, or concealed in vegetation. Visit a wetland and carefully scan the banks looking for a small, hunch-backed bird with a long, straight bill staring intently at the water. Their harsh skeow call is also a good clue. Green Herons are also distinctive in flight, with slow beats of their rounded wings making them look a bit like a tailless crow. Their habit of often briefly unfolding their neck during flight helps make them recognizable, too.