Spring is a great time to get out and do a little bit of bird watching. Many of the migratory birds are passing through, while a number of our summer residents are beginning to show-up. One of my favorite summer residents, the Green Heron, is already frequenting the wetlands of Kankakee Sands. While they are a relatively common species, that doesn’t mean that they are very easy to spot. These stocky, singular, and secretive birds stay well hidden within the trees and dense wetland vegetation they call home.
The Green Heron’s coloring is nothing less than beautiful. Their necks are a dark rusty red/brown while their backs are a deep green. Their legs are yellow, darkening a bit as they age, and they have a long, dark pointed bill. Overall, they have a much darker look than the rest of the herons and other similar species you may find in this area. While they have a long neck, they are most often seen crouching or flying with their neck pulled in tight against their bodies.
While visually distinctive, the quickest way to identify the Green Heron (Butorides virescens) may not be with your eyes, but with your ears. Green Herons have a very recognizable call, which can be heard online, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Green_Heron/sounds). Their call is described as a loud SKEEW and a series of lower knocking sounds like kuk kuk kuk…
Between 16-18 inches in length and with a wingspan of around 26 inches, Green Herons are smaller than the similar American Bittern, who are regular inhabitant of Kankakee Sands. The coloring on the American Bittern is much lighter than the Green Heron as well. The Great Blue Heron is another common similar species out here, but these beautiful birds are much taller than the Green Herons.
Green Herons could be raising their little ones here this summer. Males and females share every part of raising their young, often including the building of their nests. These nests are made of long, loosely fitted sticks and are placed in small trees over and around water. Clutch sizes range from 2-6 eggs and these eggs are a pale green color. Both the male and female take turns incubating and feeding their young.
Small fish are the food of choice for the Green Heron, though they will also feast on aquatic insects, frogs, grasshoppers, and the occasional small rodent or snake. The Green Heron is also one of the few tool using birds. It commonly will drop bait onto the surface of the water to attract fish. They’ll use a variety of lures including worms, sticks, feathers, and berries.
If you would like to spend some time bird watching and looking for some Green Herons, I suggest visiting during the early morning or evening. Green Herons are less active during the middle of the day, as are many of our birds. The Kankakee Sands Restoration is open to the public, and please park in one of our many marked parking areas, so as not to disturb the very species you’ve come to see! -Andrea Locke, Kankakee Sands Restoration Field Steward