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Green heron (South Sound marine life)

Green heron (Butorides virescens)

Rarely seen in the open, this colorful heron can be spotted in salt marshes as well as freshwater areas and occasionally on docks and floats. It is the smallest member of the heron family in our area, growing up to 18 inches in height. The top of the head and back are a dark green. The brown neck is commonly folded against the back but is thrust out when the animal grabs prey.

A patient hunter, the green heron commonly waits motionlessly for small fish to swim close. However, it is unusual in using feathers, twigs, earthworms or insects dropped on the water surface to attract fish, making it one of the few tool-using birds. It also eats other small animals such as insects and frogs.

It spends winters in the southern United States and as far south as Central America, but it does breed in our area. The nest is a basket of sticks in a small tree or bush with immediate access to water. Eggs are incubated for 21 to 24 days, with both adults feeding the young until they leave the nest in about a month.

When flying, it resembles a crow; however, the wing beats are slower, and the curled neck provides a different body outline.

David W. Jamison is a Boston Harbor resident and marine biologist.

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