The Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is a small and secretive waterbird from the Ardeidae family. These stealthy hunters are most often seen and heard as they explode from cover after being disturbed.
They are the smallest Herons in North America and inhabit quiet, heavily vegetated aquatic and marine habitats. So what do juvenile Green Herons look like?
Juvenile Green Herons are more brown than green, despite their common name. They have the same squat body shape as adults but differ in having a yellow lower mandible, spotted wings, and streaked underparts. The young birds also lack their parent’s maroon sides and deep-green caps.
Independent young Green Herons can be seen stalking the shorelines of fresh and saltwater environments throughout the eastern half of the United States. They also occur along the West Coast as far north as British Columbia.
However, they are partial migrants, and most will head south to overwinter in the Southeast, Southwest coast, and through Mexico to Central America.
Close up of a young juvenile Green Heron walking along a branch
You might spot young Green Herons outside of their nest at an early age. They can swim well before they learn to fly - a handy adaptation to safeguard against nestlings falling into the water below.
They follow their parents when they have grown old enough to take flight, and bird watchers might see the young birds at the water’s edge, eagerly awaiting a free meal from their parents.
There’s a whole lot more to discover about Juvenile Green Herons. Read along to learn more about these shy but common American waterbirds.
Close up of a juvenile Green Heron staling prey in the water
Juvenile Green Herons are small, squat waterbirds with large spear-shaped bills. Their legs and neck appear much shorter than other birds in their family, like the Great Blue Heron, although they can appear pretty tall when fully extended.
Juvenile Green Herons are brownish above with small white spots on their wings. The neck and chest are brown with prominent pale streaking, and their belly is whitish. Their legs are yellow, as is the lower half of the bill.
Juveniles differ from mature birds primarily in having brown back plumage rather than the deep green adult coloration. Adults also have a black bill and a rufous neck and belly. Very young birds that have recently begun to go out with their parents may still have a crown of fluffy white down feathers.
Continue reading to learn about the size of juvenile Green Herons and how they compare with full-grown adults.
Juvenile Green Heron stood on a log
Baby Green Herons weigh just over half an ounce (16 g) and measure less than four inches (10 cm) long when they hatch out.
Their growth is rapid, and they reach almost adult weight after only two weeks. The young Herons leave the nest just a few days later and begin to fly when they are about three weeks old.
Juvenile Green Herons are roughly crow-sized when they leave the nest. The young birds weigh 7 to 9 ounces (200 - 255 g) and measure about 14 to 18 inches (36 - 46 cm) long, with a 25 to 27-inch (63 - 69 cm) wingspan when they reach independence.
Recently fledged Green Heron chick, learning to fly
Baby Green Herons are fed a diet of regurgitated food, directly from their parent's bill. The food is well-digested and has a liquid consistency. As the chicks grow older, their parents provide more solid meals.
After leaving the nest and learning to fly, juvenile Green Herons will continue to receive regular meals from their parents for the first few weeks.
They begin to follow their parents out to hunt when they are three and a half weeks old, although inexperienced young birds have a lot of learning to do, snapping at insects at first while they wait for their parents to provide a meal.
Adult Green Herons are master fish hunters and one of the few birds that use tools. These smart birds can attract fish into striking range by dropping a small lure like a twig or a feather on the water’s surface.
Their diet is not limited to fish, however. They also feed on insects, frogs, and crustaceans.
Young Green Heron fledgling learning to forage for food
Baby Green Herons are capable of soft vocalizations from a very young age. Closely related species have been known to call even before they have completely left the egg!
Juvenile Green Herons call to beg for food from their parents while they are growing in their nest. The hungry birds produce a tik-tik-tik call to encourage their parents to provide a meal.
Once they leave the nest and begin foraging, Green Herons will produce their well-known squawking alarm call when disturbed. These birds usually fly off before being seen, and many birdwatchers and outdoor enthusiasts that spend time near quiet coastal and freshwater bodies will know this call well.
Green Heron hatching calling
Young Green Herons are fully feathered in their juvenile plumage by the middle of their third week. They will lose what remains of their nestling down feathers during their fifth week. Juvenile Green Herons begin to molt their body feathers a few weeks after leaving the nest and resemble adults by their first summer.
Green Heron eggs hatch after about twenty days. The helpless hatchlings spend the first two weeks in the nest before beginning to venture out onto surrounding branches. The young birds will start making their first short flights by their third week.
Juvenile Green Herons are not fully independent after leaving the nest. The young birds are fed by their parents for a few weeks while they learn to fend for themselves. They will continue to feed directly from their parent’s bill during this time.
Close up portrait of a juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Herons can be confused with a few other North American waterbirds from the Ardeidae family. Keep reading to learn how to tell these waterbirds apart.
The juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is easily confused with the juvenile Green Heron when seen from a distance. The two birds are similarly colored and marked, although their size and shape are pretty distinct.
Black-crowned night Herons have a noticeably thicker bill. They are also much heavier - weighing about four times as much as a juvenile Green Heron.
The juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) looks similar to both the Green Heron and the Black-crowned Night Heron in their juvenile plumage. Young Yellow-crowned Night Herons have a black bill, a red eye, and a noticeably taller and more upright posture.
The Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) is the smallest American member of the Heron family. They are similar in shape and appearance to the juvenile Green Heron but are much smaller at just under three ounces (80 g) or so. Birdwatchers can identify both adult and juvenile Least Bitterns by their buff-colored wings.
Juvenile Green heron perched on a wooden post
Immature Green Herons can be described by various names depending on their age.
When they first hatch, they are known as hatchlings. The young birds are known as chicks for the rest of their time in the nest. Chicks become fledglings once they have left the nest, and then juveniles when they learn to fly and become independent of their parents.
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