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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Green-backed Heron -- Butorides striatus
(formerly Green Heron)


RANGE: Breeds from southwestern British Columbia to northern California, southern Nevada and Utah, and north-central New Mexico, and from the western edge of the Great Plains States, southern Ontario and southern New Brunswick south to eastern Panama. After breeding, disperses north to eastern Washington, Idaho, and southern Canada. Winters from western Washington, coastal and southeastern California, southern Arizona, Texas and Louisiana, and northern Florida and South Carolina south to South America.

STATUS: Common, locally abundant.

HABITAT: Found in a wide variety of freshwater and saltwater habitats, primarily those in riparian deciduous zones. These include wet woodlands, lakeshores, ponds, rivers, streams, swamps, and marshes. Commonly alights on trees, stumps, or submerged debris, but roosts on or close to the ground.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Wetlands or open water habitats.

NEST: Generally a solitary nester, but sometimes nests in colonies of 6 pairs or more. Nest may be built away from water in dry woodlands and orchards, on a low tussock or muskrat house, or in trees near water, often a dense tangle in crowns of middle-aged trees, typically 10 to 15 feet above ground, but up to 30 feet.

FOOD: Captures prey while standing and waiting in shallow water, or by walking slowly, typically in a crouched position. Consumes fish, frogs, crayfish, mollusks, prawns, insects, leeches, earthworms, small snakes, snails, and mice.

REFERENCES: Low and Mansell 1983, Palmer 1962, Terres 1980, Verner and Boss 1980.


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