SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO
Abaco has six ‘true’ heron species (putting aside the various egrets): Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. The Green Heron Butorides virescens is a permanent resident and is easily distinguishable from the other heron species. The header picture by Tom Sheley is one of many wonderful photographs he took for THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and is one of the most striking. This is a bird actively hunting, keeping very low with eyes fixed on the water, waiting for the chance to use that long sharp bill to snaffle its prey – small fish, frogs and aquatic insects.
There are thought to be 5 sub-species of green heron within the range, but this is a matter for anguished debate (not by me). However, the resident variety in the Bahamas has been designated Butorides virescens bahamensis since 1888 (Brewster), so I’m going along with that.
Green Herons are most likely to be seen in or near water – the margins of brackish ponds or amongst the mangroves, for example. Their foraging is mostly done in water, usually at dawn or dusk.
You may encounter one on the shoreline or beach…
…but they don’t always choose the most scenic locations
Green Heron are known to drop food, insects, or small objects such as stones on the water’s surface as bait to attract fish or other tasty creatures. They are thus classified as one of the animal kingdom’s 44 (?) TOOL-USING SPECIES, considered a sign of superior intelligence.
Green Herons may also be found perching in trees
Occasionally they may be seen out at sea – this one from an offshore BMMRO research vessel
The Golf Course at Treasure Cay is an excellent place to go bird-watching. There is always plenty of bird life on the 3 ponds there, the one on hole #11 being the biggest and most abundant. If you are going to bird there, call in first at the Clubhouse and ask for permission: they are very kind about it, but they do need to know who is out on the course. And since the pond is alongside the fairway, keep your wits about you – you are a potential target for the sliced drive… (ok, ok left-handers – hooked, then).
The 2 images above are from Charlie Skinner, and show a green heron adult and chick putting the Golf Course drainage pipe to good use. Captions invited for the top one. Birds often seen at this particular location include green heron, white-cheeked pintail (lots), common gallinule (moorhen), coot, Canada goose, least grebe, neotropic cormorant, and blue-winged teal. You may also see little blue heron and smooth-billed anis. Once I found a least bittern in the background of a teal photo – I didn’t notice it at the time, but when I checked the photos there it was in the reeds behind the ducks. Another good place to bird if you are in the TC area is White Sound.
Credits: Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, Nina Henry, Tom Reed, Rick Lowe, Peter Mantle, Charlie Skinner, Wiki
POSTSCRIPT I’ve just commented HERE on the supposedly phonetic call-sounds attributed to birds to render them recognisable by man – the “What’s-for-dinner-Martha, what’s-for-dinner” and the “Give-me-a-drink-please…NOW” and so on. So when I was borrowing the range map from Wiki I was amused to see this: “The green heron’s call is a loud and sudden kyow; it also makes a series of more subdued kuk calls. During courtship, the male gives a raah-rahh call with wide-open bill, makes noisy wingbeats and whoom-whoom-whoom calls in flight, and sometimes calls roo-roo to the female before landing again. While sitting, an aaroo-aaroo courtship call is also given”. So there you go.
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Having just returned from the country this post makes me want to go back and become a twitcher, RH! Fantastic photos by the way.
Hi EST. I think you have your hands full with your nice bees – though I do quite see that in the ‘off-season’ a bit of twitching might fill those long hive-free weeks. I know you enjoy taking photographs – I recommend going to the WWT Barnes on a sunny day, where the birds are (a) quite exotic and colourful (b) quite large and (c.) tend to swan around slowly and gracefully or just lounge around. Swallows in flight would not be a good starting point! There’s even a cafe where you can get cake – they think of everything. RH
Gorgeous bird! The still just below the title above is a magnificent composition of angles, action and color. (I blame the guy pictured to the lower right 🙂 )
Hi Jack, good to hear you. I’m going to ‘fess up – that pic was taken by a photographer named Nina Henry (see credits) who visited Abaco while we were there and I was writing ‘The Birds of Abaco’. How convenient that she had 2 VG cameras with her! Praise her and the other photographers, blame me for everything else if you like! 🙂
That’s a beautiful first picture. Have you ever seen them fish?
Isn’t it great? In THE BOOK it has a whole page to itself. Tom is a great bird photographer (from Ohio) and it was wonderful to go out in the wild with him. But mostly he was up before dawn to get the shots no one else got! I’ve seen a GH fishing… in hope. I’ve never seen one actually catch a fish…
Nice photos and info, Keith. Always a fun bird to see.
Thanks Susan. It’s a pleasure to write about all these nice birds, though it’s not exactly field guide stuff!!! RH