October 2013 Bird Photo of the Month

A Clever Fisher © Richard H. Baker
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

Have you ever spotted a furtive Green Heron lurking along the shoreline of a pond or ditch, skulking amongst reeds in shallow water or fishing from an overhanging stalk or mangrove branch?

This small heron is unique and very clever as it can solve complex problems by utilizing a “tool,” unlike many mammals.  Green Herons fabricate various lures (e.g. twig, feather, insect, leaf, berries, bread crust, or even earthworm dug from mud divided into smaller pieces) to attract fish prey, live bait being most effective. The heron floats the bait on the water to entice, waits patiently poised to surprise, then with feet clinging to the branch, rapidly extends its legs, stretches out its body and neck to nab its prey. Upon takeoff, this heron emits a characteristic “skeow.”

One early, sunny morning, Richard H. Baker took this photo with a Nikon D300 and 80-400mm lens that brings out the striking golden-edged wing pattern, lovely rufous brown neck with contrasting yellow markings, and greenish head and back. The photo was taken at the West Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility, the kind of freshwater wetland where herons thrive, easily finding shelter and food in the form of fish, frogs, insects, snails, snakes, crabs, lizards and worms.

Unfortunately, the North American Breeding Bird Survey shows that Green Herons have declined 1.6 percent per year from 1966-2010, mainly from human destruction of their habitats.  We have resident Green Herons year-round, nesting in March/April. Migrants from the northern states come through Florida to winter here south to northern South America. Preserving wetland habitats is essential to the survival of these beauties.

So, next time you are near water’s edge, look carefully for the crouched, neck-retracted Green Heron holding still amongst the plants, camouflaged from the fish, peering into the water, ever vigilant, ever hopeful.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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