Breeding Bird Atlas 2 Species Accounts
- Widespread and likely increasing
- Action/monitoring needed
- State Wildlife Action Plan listed
Widespread yet elusive, the Green Heron is one of the more familiar waders to folks who spend time in the great outdoors. These small and well-camouflaged herons will feed in swamps, ponds, rivers, lakes, human-made impoundments, estuaries, and bays with equal readiness. The only real requirement the Green Heron seems to insist upon is some modicum of cover. Indeed, this species is so adept at concealing itself that its habit of flushing suddenly from hiding with a loud squawk and a stream of white excrement has given it a number of colorful nicknames such as “skeow,” “fly-up-the-creek,” “chalk-line,” and “shite-polk.”
Historic Status“Hardly a shallow pond or wide stream may be found in southern New England that is not visited either occasionally or frequently in spring and summer by one or more Little Green Herons,” wrote Edward Howe Forbush like a doting father (Forbush 1925). And so it had been for the previous hundred years. Southern New England, though, represents just a corner of the widespread range of the species. Unexpected habitat changes in the middle of the twentieth century, even the claiming of wetlands for development, seemed to have no visible effects on the population of Green Herons in Massachusetts by the time of Atlas 1. Sadly, those days were still to come.
Atlas 1 DistributionUnlike most of the state’s other breeding herons, Green Herons don’t congregate into breeding colonies. Breeding was found throughout the western part of the state, and the Marble Valleys region was the only one in the area to surpass 50% block occupancy. The many ponds and rivers of the Connecticut River Valley also had Green Herons in more than half of all blocks, but the birds were recorded at lower rates across the Worcester and Lower Worcester Plateau. These relatively shy and reclusive herons were found in over a hundred blocks throughout the Coastal Plains, and surprisingly in exactly half of all Boston Basin blocks. The Bristol/Narragansett Lowlands were a particular haven for breeding Green Herons, as were the Cape and Islands ecoregions.
Atlas 2 Distribution and ChangeDespite a noticeable redistribution of the population within the state, Green Herons have made notable gains in Massachusetts. The species has retreated from Bristol and Plymouth Counties, perhaps in the face of suburban sprawl, but has found suitable habitat on the Lower Worcester Plateau. Losses similar to those in the southeast took place in the west, except for the species’ stronghold in the Connecticut River Valley, but the Boston Basin and the great marshes of Essex County have apparently taken up the slack. No matter where they are, though, the fact remains that Green Herons were seen in more than 50% of the state in Atlas 2, an increase from the days of the 1970s.
Atlas 1 Map
Atlas 2 Map
Atlas Change Map
|Atlas 1||Atlas 2||Change|
|Ecoregion||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||Change in # Blocks||Change in % Blocks|
|Marble Valleys/Housatonic Valley||26||66.7||6.2||21||53.8||3.9||-5||-12.8|
|Lower Berkshire Hills||8||28.6||1.9||2||6.5||0.4||-6||-22.2|
|Connecticut River Valley||34||60.7||8.2||54||83.1||10.1||11||22.9|
|Lower Worcester Plateau||10||13.5||2.4||34||42.5||6.4||19||35.2|
|S. New England Coastal Plains and Hills||123||45.6||29.5||197||69.6||36.9||48||21.2|
|Bristol and Narragansett Lowlands||67||63.2||16.1||37||32.5||6.9||-32||-31.7|
|Cape Cod and Islands||69||50.7||16.5||76||52.8||14.2||2||1.7|