Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
ARDEA VIRESCENS, Linn.
PLATE CCCLXVII.--MALE AND YOUNG.
This species is more generally known than any of our Herons, it being very
extensively dispersed in spring, summer, and early autumn. It ranges along our
many rivers to great distances from the sea, being common on the Missouri and
its branches, from which it spreads to all such localities as are favourable to
its habits. To the north of the United States, however, it is very seldom seen,
it being of rare occurrence even in Nova Scotia. At the approach of winter it
retires to the Floridas and Lower Louisiana, where individuals, however, reside
all the year, and many remove southward beyond the limits of our country. I
have observed their return in early spring, when arriving in flocks of from
twenty to fifty individuals. They would plunge downwards from their elevated
line of march, cutting various zigzags, until they would all simultaneously
alight on the tops of the trees or bushes of some swampy place, or on the
borders of miry ponds. These halts took place pretty regularly about an hour
after sunrise. The day was occupied by them, as well as by some other species,
especially the Blue, the Yellow-crowned, and Night Herons, all of which at this
period travelled eastward, in resting, cleansing their bodies, and searching for
food. When the sun approached the western horizon, they would at once ascend in
the air, arrange their lines, and commence their flight, which, I have no doubt,
continued all night. You may therefore, good reader, conclude that Herons are
not only diurnal birds when feeding, but also able to travel at night when the
powerful impulse of migration urges them from one portion of the country to
another. But although on their northward journey, the Green Herons travel in
flocks, it is a curious fact, that, unlike our smaller Waders, Ducks, Geese, and
Cranes, they usually return southward at the approach of winter singly or in
very small flocks.
Stagnant pools or bayous, and the margins of the most limpid streams, are
alike resorted to by this species for the purpose of procuring food. It is
little alarmed by the presence of man, and you may often see it close to houses
on the mill-dams, or even raising its brood on the trees of gardens. This is
often the case in the suburbs of Charleston in South Carolina, where I have seen
several nests on the same live oak in the grounds of the Honourable JOEL R.
POINSETT, as well as in those of other cities of the Southern States. The
gentleness, or as many would say, the stupidity of this bird is truly
remarkable, for it will at times allow you to approach within a few paces,
looking as unconcernedly upon you as the House Sparrow is wont to do in the
streets of London.
Although they not unfrequently breed in single pairs, they also associate,
not only forming communities of their own kind, but mingling with the larger
species of their tribe, and with the Boat-tailed Grakles, and other birds. On
the 23d May, 1831, I found two nests of the Green Heron on one of the Florida
Keys, close to some of Ardea rufescens and A. coerulea. Now and then a dozen or
more of their nests are found on a bunch of vines in the middle of a pond, and
placed within two or three feet of the water; while in other cases, they place
their tenements on the highest branches of tall cypresses. In our Middle
Districts, however, and especially at some distance from the seal it is very
seldom that more than a single nest is seen in one locality.
The nest of the Green Heron, like that of almost every other species of
the tribe, is flat and composed of sticks, loosely arranged, among which are
sometimes green twigs with their leaves still attached. The eggs are three or
four, seldom more, an inch and three-eighths in length, an inch and one-eighth
in breadth, nearly equally rounded at both ends, and of a delicate sea-green
colour. According to the locality, they are deposited from the middle of March
to the beginning of June. In the Southern States, two broods are frequently
reared, but in the Middle and Northern Districts, seldom more than one.
The young, which are at first of a deep livid colour, sparingly covered
here and there, and more especially about the head, with longish tufts of soft
hair-like down, of a brownish colour, remain in the nest until nearly able to
fly; but if disturbed, at once leave their couch, and scramble along the
branches, clinging to them with their feet, so as not to be easily drawn off.
After the spring migration is over, the flight of this species is rather
feeble, and when they are passing from one spot to another, they frequently use
a stronger flap of their wings at intervals. On such occasions, they scarcely
contract their neck; but when travelling to a considerable distance, they draw
it in like all other species of the tribe, and advance with regular and firm
movements of their wings. When alighting to rest, they come down with such
force, that their passage causes a rustling sound like that produced by birds of
prey when pouncing on their quarry, and on perching they stretch up their neck
and jerk their tail repeatedly for some time, as they are also wont to do on any
other occasion when alarmed.
The Green Herons feed all day long, but, as I think, rarely at night.
Their food consists of frogs, fishes, snails, tadpoles, water-lizards, crabs,
and small quadrupeds, all of which they procure without much exertion, they
being abundant in the places to which they usually resort. Their gait is light,
but firm. During the love-season they exhibit many curious gestures, erecting
all the feathers of their neck, swelling their throat, and uttering a rough
guttural note like qua, qua, several times repeated by the male as he struts
before the female. This note is also usually emitted when they are started, but
when fairly on wing they proceed in silence. The flesh of this species affords
tolerable eating, and Green Herons are not unfrequently seen in the markets of
our southern cities, especially of New Orleans.
The young attain their full beauty in the second spring, but continue to
grow for at least another year. The changes which they exhibit, although by no
means so remarkable as those of Ardea rufescens and A. coerulea, have proved
sufficient to cause mistakes among authors who had nothing but skins on which to
found their decisions. I have given figures of an adult in full plumage, and of
an immature bird, to enable you to judge how carefully Nature ought to be
studied to enable you to keep free of mistakes.
GREEN HERON, Ardea virescens, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 97.
ARDEA VIRESCENS, Bonap. Syn., p. 307.
GREEN HERON, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 63.
GREEN HERON, Ardea virescens, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 274.
Male, 17 3/4, 27. Female, 17, 25.
Resident in the Floridas and along the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. In spring
and summer disperses over the whole country as far as Maine, and up the
Missouri. Returns southward at the approach of winter. Very common.
Bill longer than the head, straight, rather slender, tapering to a very
acute point, higher than broad at the base, compressed towards the end. Upper
mandible with its dorsal line very slightly arched, the ridge broad and rather
flattened at the base, narrowed towards the end, the sides sloping, erect
towards the edges, which are sharp and direct, the tip acute. Nasal depression
long, with a groove extending to near the point; nostrils basal, linear,
longitudinal. Lower mandible with the angle very long and narrow, the dorsal
line eloping upwards, the sides sloping outwards and nearly flat, the edges
sharp, the tip acuminate.
Head oblong, much compressed. Neck long. Body very slender, much
compressed. Feet rather long, moderately stout; tibia bare for about an inch;
tarsi of moderate length, covered with hexagonal scales, of which some of the
anterior are much larger and scutelliform. Toes rather long and slender, with
numerous scutella above; hind toe stout, second and fourth nearly equal, third
much longer; claws rather long, slender, arched, compressed, acute, that of
middle toe expanded and serrated on the inner edge.
A large space extending from the bill to behind the eye bare. Plumage very
soft, loose, and blended; feathers of the hind head elongated and erectile, as
are those of the neck generally, but especially of its hind and lower anterior
parts; of the fore part of the back much elongated and acuminate; scapulars very
large. Wings short, very broad, rounded; second and third quills equal and
longest, first and fourth equal and but slightly shorter, the rest slowly
graduated; secondaries broad and rounded. Tail very short, even, of twelve
broad soft feathers.
Bill greenish-black above, bright yellow beneath. Iris and bare part about
the eye also bright yellow. Feet greenish-yellow, claws dusky. Upper part of
the head and nape glossy deep green. Neck purplish-red, tinged with lilac
behind, and having anteriorly a longitudinal band of white, spotted with
dusky-brown; a similar white band along the base of lower mandible to beyond the
eye. Elongated feathers of the back greyish-green, in some lights bluish-grey,
with the shafts bluish-white; the rest of the back similar; the upper
tail-coverts and tail bluish green; the lateral feathers slightly margined with
white. Scapulars, wing-coverts, and inner secondaries, deep glossy green,
bordered with yellowish-white; primary quills and outer secondaries
greyish-blue, tinged with green. Lower parts pale purplish-brown, tinged with
grey; axillary feathers purplish-grey, as are some of the lower wing-coverts;
lower tail-coverts greyish-white.
Length to end of tail 17 3/4 inches, to end of wings 17 1/2, to end of
claws 24, to carpal joint 11 1/4; extent of wings 27; wing from flexure 7 5/8;
tail 3 3/4; bill along the ridge 2 1/4, along the edge of lower mandible 3 1/4;
bare part of tibia 10/12; tarsus 2; hind toe 7/8, its claw 1/2; middle toe
1 1/8, its claw (2 1/2)/8; inner toe 1 3/8, its claw 1/4; outer toe 1 3/8 its
claw 1/4. Weight 7 1/2 oz.
The female is considerably smaller, but otherwise similar.
Length to end of tail 17 inches, to end of wings 17, to end of claws
21 3/4; extent of wings 25. Weight 6 1/4 oz.
Young fully fledged.
The bill dull greyish-green, the lower mandible lighter; bare space around
the eye greenish-blue, with the exception of a streak of yellow at the upper
part. Iris yellow. Feet greenish-yellow, duller than in the adult. The hind
neck light brownish-red, the fore part of the neck and all the under parts
white, longitudinally streaked with brownish-red, some of the long feathers on
the sides of the neck also white. At this age there are no elongated feathers
on the back, which is greenish-blue, as well as the scapulars and tail-feathers.
Wing as in the adult, but the smaller feathers on its anterior part more red,
the coverts with a small triangular tip of white, and the quills narrowly tipped
and margined with the same.
Length to end of tail 17 1/2 inches, to end of wings 17, to end of claws
23; extent of wings 25. Weight 6 1/2 oz.
The roof of the mouth is anteriorly a little concave, with a median
prominent line; the palate convex; the lower jaw with a kind of joint about an
inch from the base, its intercrural membrane or skin very extensile. The tongue
is 1 7/12 inches long, very slender, trigonal, emarginate at the base, with a
groove along the middle, and pointed. Posterior apertures of nares linear, 1/2
inch long. OEsophagus, Fig. 1 [a, b, c],
10 inches long, its walls delicate, its
diameter at the upper part 1 inches, gradually contracting to 1/2 inch at its
entrance into the thorax. The lobes of the liver unequal, the right 1 inch 5
twelfths long, the left 11 twelfths; the gall-bladder large, 7 twelfths long.
The stomach, [c d], is membranous, of an oblong form, 9 twelfths long, 10
twelfths in breadth; its tendons elliptical, 5 twelfths by 3 twelfths. The
proventriculus, [c c], 9 twelfths long, with a complete belt of oblong
glandules. There is a small roundish pyloric lobe [e]. Intestine, [f, g], 2
feet 11 inches long, its diameter uniform, 1 twelfth, or about the thickness of
a Crow's quill. Rectum enlarged to 3 twelfths, and 3 1/2 inches long, its
coecal extremity rounded, and only 1 twelfth long.
The trachea is 7 1/4 inches long, of nearly uniform diameter, averaging 2
twelfths; the rings 160, nearly circular and ossified. The bronchial half-rings
about 18. The lateral muscles are very inconspicuous; sterno-tracheals, and a
pair of inferior laryngeal, going to the first bronchial rings.
The Herons generally differ from the other Grallae in having the oesophagus
much wider, and similar to that of the fish-eating palmipedes; the stomach in a
manner membranous, like that of the rapacious land-birds, without lateral
muscles or strong epithelium; the intestine extremely slender, and the anterior
extremity of the large intestine or rectum furnished with a single coecum, in
place of two, as in almost all other birds.