The green heron has a savvy way of catching fish

Posted Aug. 12, 2009, at 9:23 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:38 a.m.

The marsh at Essex Wood in Bangor is a great place for birding. I went there with a group of birders — we were delighted to see three green herons.

We saw two adult green herons and a juvenile one.

Green herons are much smaller than great blue herons. Often, green herons lurk in the alders and they can be hard to see. Their backs are dark green; their necks are chestnut; their caps are dark green. They have a crest. They are never as conspicuous as great blue herons are.

In Maine, I usually see green herons perching on stems of alders or willows and reaching with their neck and bill to catch small fish and other animals in the water.

They are uncommon and secretive. In addition to fish, they also will eat tadpoles, small frogs, crayfish, snails, leeches and water insects.

At Essex Wood Marsh, we saw green herons among the alders or other shrubs or trees, flying from tree to tree, and perching on sticks and branches near the water. They usually hide in a streamside forest.

Green herons choose a branch that they can perch on. Then they cling on to their branch, crouching down so their chest is near the water, but their neck and legs are bent. Then their neck straightens and their head and bill spring out to grab a fish.

When they are alarmed, they fly away quickly with a one-syllable noise, “Skyow!”

In Florida, I have often seen green herons in the open — on mud flats, or along a canal or a roadside ditch. It is easy to see a green heron in Florida. Seeing one in Maine is a treat that you don’t get every day.

A few individual green herons learn to “lure” small fish with a feather, a leaf or a crust of bread.

The heron tosses the lure into the water, and minnows gather around the lure.

Then the heron snatches a minnow.

This unusual behavior has been observed mostly in parks, in Japan, in Florida and in South Africa. If you want to see pictures of this, Google “green heron luring fish.”

It is an interesting phenomenon, but rare. You will be lucky to see a green heron — don’t expect that it will be luring a fish.

Several other heron species have been observed while luring fish — a rare phenomenon.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2951.

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