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The American Birding Association (ABA) provides a community, forum, and resources for every birder, bird watcher, and bird enthusiast. From the backyard bird feeder to the world-traveling, rare bird-searching birder, ABA’s members enjoy the benefits of an organization that represents them. They pore over their newsletter, Winging It, filled with contributions by other birders, and peruse the award-winning magazine Birding. ABA’s members and staff make a real difference as volunteers and leaders in the birding community, conducting crucial research, implementing conservation activities, teaching others, and sharing resources. To join the ABA visit We'd love to have you!

ABA Bird of the Year 2015: Green Heron

Bird of the Year
Green Heron
(Butorides virescens)

Introduction by Nate Swick, ABA Blog editor

2015 Bird of the Year official artwork, by Rafael Galvez

2015 Bird of the Year official artwork, by Rafael A. Galvez

Imagine cruising in a canoe down a sluggish, fresh-water river. The songs of myriad birds cascade down on you as you travel along the placid water, untroubled by much of anything as you drift closer to the river bank. Suddenly, with an explosive skow, a bird bursts out of some dense riverside vegetation, leading you down the river before alighting on dead branches to admonish your intrusion with a series of gutteral kuk-kuk-kuks.

That was my introduction to the ABA’s 2015 Bird of the Year, but yours might have been a small bird motionless on the edge of a small pond, or on a half-submerged log in the middle of a marsh, or passing overhead among other fall migrants heard though the other end of a parabolic microphone. Green Herons are widespread and well-regarded in the ABA Area, and so many of us have great stories and wonderful memories involving them.

Since we began the Bird of the Year, there’s been one species for which birders have asked for more than any other, for reasons that are remarkably similar. For many birders, Green Heron was one of the first species that suggested that birding can open your world up to experiences you never would have expected otherwise. Because while birders and non-birders alike are familiar with the large and dramatic members of the heron clan, it’s the surprisingly vivid, amazingly unexpected one hidden along the edges of the water that seems to draw out the birder hiding inside all of us.

There’s a lot to like about the Green Heron. There’s the striking rust and forest green of the adults that is so dramatic but conspires to make the bird nearly invisible in the sun-specked shade where it’s most often found. There’s its penchant for honest-to-goodness tool usage which makes it a bit of an anomaly among wading birds. And there’s its broad range, stretching from coast-to-coast and deep into Central America and the Caribbean where it boasts a number of colloquial names including Aguaitacaimán (Cuba, translates as “Watches-for-caiman”), Crá-crá (Dominican Republic), Martinete (Puerto Rico), Chicuaco Cuello Rojo (Venezuela), Garcilla Verde (Ecuador), Garceta Verde Cangrejera, and Garcita Verdosa (Spain), among others.

It’s a much-loved species in the ABA, and we’re excited to finally give them their due in 2015.

 Fun Facts About Green Herons

  • One of the more fascinating aspects of Green Heron behavior is their occasionally use of feathers, insects, earthworms, or small floating objects, as bait to attract small fish. The heron will place the object on the surface of the water and wait for the fish to arrive, where it can snag them easily. A video of a Green Heron practicing this behavior can be seen here.

  • Green Herons are medium-distance migrants acros much of the ABA Area, with most breeding birds in the northern US and southern Canada going as far south as northern South America. Migrating Green Herons can travel is large loose flocks as they head south. They’re strong flyers and vagrants have been recorded in western Europe and Hawaii.

  • Most Green Herons that breed in the US and Canada overwinter in Central America and the Caribbean. There are resident populations in Florida, alog the Gulf Coast to southern Texas, and southern California as well.

The name

Many birders know Green Heron as “Green-backed Heron”, its official name when it was lumped with Striated Heron of South America. The subsequent split of those species in 1993 gave us the name we’re familiar with today.

The Green Heron’s genus, Butorides, comes from Butor, and old genus for bitterns, and -oides, Greek for resembling.  The specific name, virescens, refers to the color.   What the name lacks in poetry is certainly makes up in its directness


  • Relatively small for a heron, adults have a deep green back, a rich brown neck and a dark cap. Bill is dark and legs are usually yellow. Males and females are similar, but females tend to be slightly duller, particularly in the  breeding season.
  • Subadults are similar to adults, but are duller overall, with more extensive streaking on the throat and brown splotches on the back where the adults are green. Legs are greenish-yellow.

  • The calls of the Green Heron include an explosive ‘skow’ when disturbed, and a series of ‘kuk-kuk‘ calls. Displaying males make various squawks, screams and deep ‘whoom-whoom-whoom‘ calls .

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