Bird Database

Green Heron

(Butorides virescens)

State of the Birds
At a Glance





Strongly Decreasing


Wetland loss

Conservation Actions

Protect and restore wetlands

Green Heron

(Butorides virescens)

Most tool use in birds is seen in ostensibly more intelligent species such as parrots and crows, but there’s a common bird right here in New Hampshire that’s also part of the club: the Green Heron. Our smallest heron (not counting the rare Least Bittern) will drop small objects into the water as bait to attract fish closer to the surface. They will even move these objects back closer to their hunting perch if they start to drift away. Many different items have been recorded as bait, including small leaves, feathers, insects, and pieces of bread. A closely related species in Japan has even been recorded making tools by breaking sticks into smaller pieces for use in baiting.

Green Herons fish – with bait or otherwise – in highly vegetated ponds and marshes throughout most of New Hampshire. Because they are small, secretive, and generally solitary they are not seen as often as their larger or showier cousins, but they are probably more common than we think. Their secrecy makes it hard to assess population size or trend, but available data from most of the species’ range show a decline starting around 1980. Unfortunately, the Green Heron has not been the subject of many detailed studies, so causes for decline are largely speculative. Habitat loss is likely a contributing factor, even though these herons regularly use small and man-made wetlands. Studies on environmental contaminants have documented lower levels compared to other herons and no consistent impacts on reproduction. The good news is that Green Herons remain common across their wide range, even if they are rarely seen.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Green Heron
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count