Fox Squirrel on a fence

Species Profile: Sciurus niger – Fox Squirrel

Scientific Name: Sciurus niger

Common Name(s): Fox Squirrel, Eastern Fox Squirrel, Stump-eared Squirrel, Bryant’s Fox Squirrel

Typical fox squirrel © Markus Krötzsch

Typical fox squirrel © Markus Krötzsch

 

Completely black fox squirrel © Chris Fuller

Completely black fox squirrel © Chris Fuller

Identification:

The fox squirrel is the largest tree squirrel native to North America. It reaches lengths of 8 to 13 in, weighing 1 to 2 lbs. Both males and females look alike, exhibiting no sexual dimorphism in size or coloration. The fox squirrel’s fur is greyish light brown with a brownish orange on the underside. In some populations, fox squirrels have dark brown markings or various patterns of black fur. Fox squirrels have long claws and are natural climbers. They can be differentiated from the eastern grey squirrel by both size and color, with grey squirrels having grey fur with a white underside and being about half the size of fox squirrels.

Range map of United States

Range:

Sciurus niger is native to eastern and central North America and introduced to western regions of Canada and USA. For example, while there are naturally occurring populations in Colorado, many populations are because of introductions in the early 1900’s. Fox squirrel populations expanded naturally across Colorado by riparian corridors, invading urban areas.

Ecology:

Fox squirrels can occupy any sizable forested area. They tend to be the dominant squirrel species in smaller patches of wooded land and open park like habitats. Larger populations can be found in areas where nuts can be foraged from oaks (Quercus), hickories (Carya), walnuts (Juglans), and pines (Pinus). While their diet consists mostly of nuts and other available fruits, they will also readily consume insects, bulbs, tubers, roots, and tree buds. They have strong jaws that allow them to crack nuts and other hard forage.

Fox squirrels can mate anytime during the year, but estrus occurs in December and again in June. During this time males compete for mating rights. Females often mate with several males. Females become mature at 10 months and can have their first litter at one year. Gestation is about 45 days, and two litters can be had per year. Litter size is generally 2-3 offspring. Reproduction rates can be correlated with food and resource availability. Development in fox squirrels is slower compared to other rodents. Fox squirrels are born blind, with their eyes opening around 5-6 weeks old. Offspring are weaned around 8-10 weeks. Fox squirrels can live up to 18 years in captivity, but in the wild more commonly live to 8-12 years.

Very few natural predators can catch an adult fox squirrel. Most predation is opportunistic by large predators, such as bobcats, coyotes, wolves, and large birds of prey. Juveniles can be easily captured however, and face additional predation from raccoons, opossums, and snakes.

Special Notes:

Here, in Bella Vista fox squirrels can be found anywhere. A notable population lives on the Berksdale golf course. This population is unique because it has a high proportion of individuals with dark fur patterns. The photo above was taken of one of the completely black individuals. The abundance of nut producing trees here, such as oak, hickory, and walnut, make Bella Vista a prime fox squirrel habitat.

Osprey on a branch

Species Profile: Pandion haliaetus – Osprey

Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus

Common Name(s): Osprey, Fish Eagle, Sea hawk, River Hawk, Fish Hawk

 

Osprey on a branch

Wikipedia.org/Yathin S Krishnappa

 

Identification:

The osprey Pandion haliaetus is a large predatory bird. Males and females are similar in appearance, although males can be distinguished by narrower wings and body compared to the female. The underside is white, and the back and wings are a dark brown. Their head is white with dark brown surrounding their golden eyes extending to the back of the neck. They have a black, sharply downturned beak and white feet with sharp, black talons. They have distinctive wings with four long feathers; the fifth feather is shorter. Their tail is short and has both brown and white coloration. Adults average 20-26 inches long, weight 2-4.6 lbs., and have a wingspan of 50-71 inches.

Range of Osprey Map Chart

Range:

The osprey is found almost worldwide. It is very adaptable, able to live almost anywhere it can find fish to feed on and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Florida and the Gulf Coast tends to have permanent residents who do not migrate.

Ecology:

Osprey can inhabit both freshwater and saltwater environments. They are very adaptable and are often seen on coastlines, or by large rivers and lakes. Virtually anywhere that has fish can by inhabited by osprey. The osprey has many adaptations that help it capture fish including reversible toes, sharp spines underneath the toes, a membrane to close the nose when diving, backwards scales on the talons that hold prey when flying, and dense, oily feathers that will not hold water when they dive. Fish ranging from 1.8 oz to 4.4 lbs. can be captured by osprey. Although their diet is 99% fish, they also consume rodents, rabbits, amphibians, other birds, and small reptiles.  

During breeding, osprey build large mounds of sticks, brush, or vegetation that they use as nests. They are monogamous, breeding with the same partner for life. Both parents help raise young. Females lay 2-4 white eggs with dark brown spots. Eggs hatch within a month. Eggs weigh around 2.3 oz and depend on the large nest, and their mother, for warmth. Young will get their flight feathers in 8-10 weeks after hatching.

Osprey commonly live 7-10 years, and rarely survive for 20-25 years. Great horned owls, golden eagles, and bald eagle are all predators of ospreys. These predators’ prey on eggs as well as adults. Eagles most often harass ospreys and take freshly killed prey from them. Raccoons are another predator, killing young or eggs if they can reach their nest.

Special Notes:

Here in Bella Vista, osprey can most likely be spotted flying near the lakes or Little Sugar Creek in search of prey. In Arkansas, they are not permanent or breeding residents, so breeding behavior cannot be observed.

Species Profile: Aix sponsa – Wood Duck

Scientific Name: Aix sponsa
Common Name(s): Wood Duck, Carolina Duck

Wood ducks

Nextdoornature.org

Identification:
The wood duck (Aix sponsa) is a medium sized, unmistakable North American duck most known for its beautiful colors. Males have the most color in fall through early summer, with iridescent feathers of multiple colors. Their heads are green at the top, then transition to purple, pink, and blue. They have multiple white outlines on their head, neck, and body, distinctive red eyes, and a red, white, and black bill. Females are more grayish brown in color, with their sides a lighter shade than their backs. They have some bluish feathers on their wings and white that surrounds their eyes. Females’ bills are gray. Both males and females have long feathers that hang off the back of their heads. Out of breeding season, males resemble females but often keep their red bills and have light blue feathers on their wings. Adults average 19-21inches with a wingspan of 26-29inches.

Wood duck species range map

Range:
The wood duck is a North American migratory species, moving south for the winter in northern parts of its range. They remain as year-round residents in southern parts of their range.

Ecology:
Wood ducks prefer water bodies that have forest habitat nearby. They can be found near lakes, marshes, rivers, and streams. Wood ducks like to perch in trees to avoid predators, especially during breeding season when they are nesting. The male call sounds like a squeaky whistle, while the female call is louder and longer.

Juvenile wood ducks consume aquatic bugs and small fish. Adults feed mainly on plants, seeds, berries, and nuts, although they will eat insects as well.

During breeding season, males attract females with their call and iridescent colors. Once paired, they build nests in tree cavities. Sycamore trees overhanging water are common nesting choices. Where nesting sites are scarce, they will nest up to one mile away from water. Hatchlings routinely jump from heights of up to 50 feet landing on leaf pack unhurt. Parents then lead them to the nearest water body. Nest boxes are readily used. Females line their nest with soft feathers or other materials and then lay eggs. If a female cannot find a nest of her own, she will lay her eggs in another female’s nest. This can decrease survivability because one female is unable to adequately incubate a large number of eggs. Females normally lay 7-15 eggs and incubate them for around one month. Egg dumping in nest boxes with no intention of incubation is also a fairly common practice.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 has helped wood duck populations recover from threateningly low numbers. This Act regulates the hunting of migratory birds and prevents them from being sold. Before this Act, many wood ducks were killed for their feathers to make women’s hats. Widespread harvest of mature timber more than 100 years ago also limited nesting sites. Eastern forest lands have sense recovered, and so has the wood duck.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, wood ducks can potentially be seen on any lake, stream, or pond. They tend to be secretive and enjoy the water line at the back of coves. With plenty of water and surrounding forested habitat, Bella Vista is a great place for wood ducks.

Species Profile: Didelphis virginiana – Virginia Opossum

Scientific Name:              Didelphis virginiana

Common Name(s):          Virginia Opossum, Possum

Identification:

Virginia opossums Didelphis virginiana are the only marsupial (mammals with a pouch) in North America. They are small to medium in size and have mixed black, gray, and white fur. Their faces are white with a long pink nose, black eyes, and black ears. They have opposable thumbs on their hind legs which help them climb trees. The hind legs also do not have claws. Their tail is prehensile, meaning it can grab and hold things, and is used mainly for gripping limbs when in trees. A common misconception about opossums is that they hang from their tails to sleep. Although they can hang from their tails for a short time, it is not strong enough to hold them for that long. Males often weigh more and have larger teeth than females, while females have a marsupium (pouch) to hold babies. Opossums range from 10-40 inches in length, without tail, and weigh up to 8 lbs. for females and up to 14 lbs. for males.

 

Fun Facts:

These animals display characteristics that are very unusual for North American mammals.  Among them are…

  1. Opossums are the only North American marsupial (development of young in a pouch)
  2. They have 13 nipples in a circular arrangement with one in the middle.
  3. Their brain is 1/5 the size of a raccoon of similar size.
  4. They have 50 teeth. More than any other North American Mammal
  5. They have a prehensile (grasping) tail.
  6. They have opposable thumbs on the hind legs
  7. No claws on hind legs
  8. Yes, they do play possum
  9. From an evolutionary standpoint they are not “living fossils” as they evolved recently (20 million years ago)
  10. Extreme example of Bergman’s Rule which states that individuals within a species are larger in colder climates to conserve heat.  Northern opossums are up to 20 times larger than their southern cousins.
Black Bullhead fish in the water

Species Profile: Ameiurus (Genus) – Bullhead Catfishes

Scientific Name:              Ameiurus (Genus); Ameiurus melas, Ameiurus natalis

Common Name(s):          Bullhead Catfish; Black Bullhead, Yellow Bullhead
Creek Cats, Mud Cats, Yellow Cats, Black Cats, Polliwogs

Identification:

There are seven species of bullhead catfishes, all native to North America and all within the genus Ameiurus. There are two common species of bullheads in Northwest Arkansas, the black and yellow.  The black bullhead Ameiurus melas has dark whiskers, called barbles, under its chin that are either gray or black and which differ from the white ones of the yellow bullhead Ameiurus natalis. Both black and yellow bullheads are solid brownish-yellow fading to white on their bellies. All bullhead catfishes have a quadrate, unforked tail fin which distinguishes them from other catfish species. They also have spines in the dorsal fin on their backs and both pectoral fins on their sides. Like all catfish, the bullheads have an adipose fin, a small fleshy projection on their back just in front of their tail fin. Bullheads are commonly 12-16 inches and weigh 1-2 lbs.

Range:

The range for Bullheads differs slightly but are consistently found east of Wyoming and Colorado. Black bullheads can be found in parts of southern Canada, south to Texas, and in the central United States.  Yellow bullheads are found from the central to the eastern United States. In Arkansas, black and yellow bullheads are found state-wide in appropriate habitats.

Ecology:

Bullheads are warm water fish, preferring water temperatures around 75-85°F. They are considered “rough fish” as opposed to “game fish” in part because they are seldom sought after and few regulations govern their harvest. The meat is of good quality especially when caught from clean waters and has even been described as having a sweet flavor. Small size is typically the reason more bullheads are not harvested.

Bullheads are generally not stocked intentionally. They tend to overpopulate in small impoundments.  Their feeding activity can create muddy conditions impact water quality. Bullheads are very tolerant of these conditions, but many gamefish are not. There have been accidental stockings by misidentifying them with other catfish species. This has resulted in established populations well outside of their native ranges.

Spawning in Arkansas occurs from May-June when temperatures range from 66-75°F. Females primarily make oval shaped nests in shallower water, although occasionally males will help construct nests. Both parents guard the nest until young hatch. Young then school with the parents until they are around 1 inch long when the parents abandon them. Bullheads are thought to be monogamous.

Bullheads are bottom feeders and consume almost anything, including fish, insects, crayfish, and dead organisms. Like other catfish, they rely on their olfactory senses to find food instead of their eyesight, which is performed using their mouth barbles. Yellow bullheads are the pickiest out of the two species.  All bullheads primarily feed at night.

Special Notes:

Here in Bella Vista, bullheads are not stocked deliberately in any of the lakes. They are commonly found in golf course ponds due to periodic inundation by Little Sugar Creek which maintains good populations of both species. Populations in our lakes remain low due to predation by game fish, primarily largemouth bass. It is probable that they are found in all our lakes, as they were a native stream fish before the valleys were flooded.

Species Profile: Lontra canadensis – River Otter

Scientific Name: Carya (Genus)
Common Name(s): River Otter, North American River Otter

Identification:
River otters live in and around water. They have long streamlined bodies with a long, tapered tail. Otters have oily brown fur all over their body, including their tail; this can help distinguish them from the beaver with its hairless tail. The fur on their underside is typically a lighter brown or gray. Otters also have long prominent whiskers. Their feet are webbed, and their hands are very dexterous. Otters weigh 10-30 lbs., with males larger than females, and are 24-42 inches in length.

Range:
Otters were natively found throughout North America, from Alaska and Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and from coast-to-coast. However, habitat destruction, urbanization, and pollution have extirpated the river otter from some states in the U.S.

Ecology:
River otters inhabit more than just rivers. They can be found in inland freshwaters, such as rivers and lakes, and in marine and brackish waters. They prefer waters with adjacent woodlands but can survive in any location with a steady supply of food and access to a waterbody. Otters live in dens built in a natural hollow, an undercut riverbank, hollow log, or in the burrows of other animals. The entrance may be under water or above ground. The den is typically lined with leaves, grass, bark, and moss.

Otters are typically ambush predators, lunging and grabbing prey, rather than pursuing prey. They are well adapted for hunting in water: they can stay submerged for up to 4 minutes, swim at a speed of nearly 7 mph, and dive to a depth of 65 ft. While their primary diet is fish and crayfish, they will opportunistically eat anything, including fruit, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects, and small mammals. They will avoid carrion.

Reproduction is viable at two years of age, and males usually mate with multiple females. Breeding occurs from December to April. While gestation lasts two months, otters delay implantation for up to eight months, meaning that birth usually occurs 10-12 months after copulation. Litters usually consist of one to three pups, rarely up to five. Pups are born fully furred but are blind and toothless. They open their eyes at four weeks, consume solid food at nine weeks, wean at 12 weeks, and are provided food up until 38 weeks. While they can sustain themselves at an earlier age, pups usually stay with their family until the following spring and leave before a new litter is born.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, otters are uncommon. Little Sugar Creek provides a corridor for otters to get to Bella Vista and potentially all our lakes. In January 2020, an otter was seen eating fish in the Avalon heated dock multiple times. The Lakes and Parks staff may take measures to relocate the otter to prevent interference with the fish hatchery program. Although they are fascinating to watch, otters can be voracious and wreak havoc on a contained system like in a fish hatchery.

A curious otter at the Avalon Heated Fishing Dock.
Photo courtesy of Tom Vickery

Featured Image: https://tinyurl.com/qr2vock © Charles Kennard

Species Profile: Carya (Genus) – Hickory

Scientific Name: Carya (Genus)
Common Name(s): Hickory, Typical Hickories (many different species)

 

Identification:
Hickory trees native to North America are all from the genus Carya, although there are 12 different species in the United States. All of them have different characteristics, as well as similarities. Hickory trees produce flowers in the spring that are small and yellow-green in color. The fruits are categorized as nuts that are surrounded by a hard husk with four parts. Husks split open when they mature. The nuts contained in the husks have a hard, bony shell that split in two halves when the seed germinates. Nuts measure 0.75 – 2” long by 0.5 – 1.20” in diameter.

cobblestonefarms.biz/hickory-tree-nuts/

Range:
Carya species are native to North America including southeastern Canada, eastern United States and parts of Mexico. Some species are native to China and India as well.

Ecology:
Hickory trees serve as food for many insects including the Luna moth, the hickory leaf stem gall and the banded hickory borer. Galls can potentially damage hickory trees, although they are normally harmless. Squirrels do more damage searching the trees for the galls to eat, and breaking off infected bark.

The nuts of hickory species can help identify the species of tree, although they are very difficult to identify themselves. All are surrounded by a husk that can be thick or thin but is generally hard through maturity. Some husks appear rougher than others and have slightly different shades of color.

The wood produced by hickory trees has a combination of strength, hardness, and stiffness that is hard to find in other woods grown commercially. It is used for many things that must handle a lot of weight and stress including bows, tool handles, lacrosse stick handles, golf club shafts, walking sticks, paddles and even floors. The heartwood is dark and highly contrasted to the sapwood making it very desirable for kitchen cabinets. It is great to use for cooking barbeque or smoking meats because of the flavor that it adds. The shagbark hickory Carya ovata has a bark extract that is like a smoky maple syrup.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, hickory trees are quite common on hillsides throughout the city. Shagbark hickory trees are one of the most easily recognized trees to identify by the bark. As the name implies, the bark looks as if it is peeling off the tree. There are others here including the shellbark, mockernut, and black hickories. All nuts are edible, but the reward for the effort required insures that most are left for the squirrels.

Species Profile: Odocoileus virginianus – White-tailed Deer

Scientific Name:              Odocoileus virginianus

Common Name(s):          White-tailed Deer, Whitetail

Identification:
White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, are most recognizable by the bold, white underside of their tails, which stands up straight when alarmed. In the summer adult deer have a thin reddish coat but is replaced with a thick brown coat around September. They have white on their undersides, insides of their ears, and beginning of their necks. Their ears are lined with darker fur, and there is white around their noses and mouths. Their hooves are separated into two parts with a split down the middle. Males, or bucks, have antlers that are shed and re-grown each year. Females are known as does, and young as fawns. Fawns are characterized by the white spots all over their body which they lose by 6 months of age. Bucks average 100 lbs., with does around 88 lbs., but weights are highly variable. In the northern parts of their range, deer are bigger in size.


Range:
Odocoileus virginianus is native to the United States, with a range including southern Canada down to northern South America. They have been introduced to other parts of the world such as Puerto Rico, New Zealand, and Cuba.

Ecology:
White-tailed deer prefer habitats with forest edges and open woodlands. They also like areas with dense vegetation for protection from predators. White-tailed deer are herbivores, consuming plants, grasses, fruits, acorns, clover, and corn. Deer can be considered a nuisance to farmers who grow corn or fruits that the deer will feed on and cause damage. In places with large populations of deer, they can have major impacts on native plants, although their browsing can help plant diversity in some areas. A deer’s home range usually consists of around one square mile, but this area is not in any defined shape, rather it is based on habitat, terrain, and home ranges of dominant deer. Deer can jump high fences and have a propensity to be a hazard on roadways.

Deer have many different calls they use to communicate with each other. Fawns will squeal, called bleat, if they have been separated from their mothers which will deepen as it matures. Adult deer grunt to each other to get attention, or a mother will grunt to find her fawn. When they feel threatened, deer will snort or blow to signal danger to other deer in the area and will raise their white tail while running away.

White-tailed deer in Arkansas breed from October through December with the peak usually occurring in mid-November. Breeding season is known as the rut. Males will breed with as many females as they can. Bucks will scrape an area with their hooves, clearing some ground and rub their antlers on the bark of a small tree to let females know that a male is in the area. They will urinate in these areas to leave their scent. Males may also fight with their antlers and hooves during territory or breeding disputes. Females release hormones and pheromones when they are in heat, letting bucks know they can breed. Females are pregnant for 6.5-7 months before giving birth. Females will nurse the fawns and hide them in dense vegetation for around 4 weeks to keep them hidden from predators. After that, fawns can get up and follow their mothers to search for food. Male fawns normally leave their mothers after a year, while females tend to stay longer.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal neurological disease with no cure, has been found in some deer in Arkansas. It is caused by a protein in the brain that is abnormally shaped, called a prion. This disease can spread from direct contact between animals, or through contaminated plants. This disease causes deer to slowly waste away and become very sick. Humans are not at risk of getting CWD, although it is suggested that you should not eat a deer that has the symptoms of CWD. Also, there are some tick-borne diseases that deer are an intermediate host for, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can be transmitted to humans.

Deer are popular among hunters for their meat, called venison, and for the antlers of bucks. Bucks will grow their first set of antlers when they are a year-old during spring and summer. Antlers are pure bone, although when first starting to grow, they are covered with blood vessels, nerves, and a soft layer called velvet. Growth can continue until September when the deer will start to rub off the velvet layer on trees or anything hard. Once the velvet falls off, the hard bone is left. Their antlers are shed around January-February.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, white-tailed deer can be seen virtually anywhere at any time. They are most active at dawn and dusk. Be careful of deer by roadways as they often run out in front of traffic. The second or third deer is often determined to follow the leader and often collisions with cars come from “the followers”.

Bobcat

Species Profile: Lynx Rufus – Bobcat

Bobcat

Iucnredlist.org/Michael L. Baird

Identification:

Bobcats Lynx rufus are small to medium sized predatory cat’s native to North America. They have tan-brown fur with black streaks and spots scattered on their body with white around their mouths and belly. Their pointed ears are tipped with black fur. Fur sticks out around their face, making their head look wide. Their eyes are yellowish with a black pupil. They have large paws with retractable claws and long legs and their black tipped tail is short and stubby.  Adults are 19-49 inches long from head to tail and 12-24 inches tall. Bobcats weigh 14-40 lbs. with females weighing slightly less.

Map showing Bobcat area

Bobcat Areas

Range:

Lynx rufus is native to North America including most of Mexico, the United States, and southern Canada.

Ecology:

Bobcats are found in many different types of habitats, including all of Arkansas. They prefer woodlands but are also found in swamps, deserts, and rugged mountain areas. Bobcats can adapt given food and suitable habitat. Bobcats are solitary and occupy home ranges from 0.25 to 25 square miles. Females do not roam as far as males and do not associate with other females. Males are not normally tolerant of other males; however, their home ranges may overlap with other males and females. Territory is marked by urine, feces, and claw marks on trees. Bobcats are crepuscular, meaning they are primarily active several hours after dawn and before dusk. Behavior can change somewhat with the prey they are pursuing.

Bobcats normally have several dens for shelter in their home ranges. Predators of adult bobcats include humans, cougars, gray wolves, and coyotes. Kittens have more predators, including owls, eagles, hawks, foxes, and other adult male bobcats. Juveniles have high mortality rates in the few months after leaving their mothers. Diseases and starvation are other threats to the survival of bobcats. Bobcats are susceptible to parasites, both externally and internally. They carry ticks, fleas, and parasites of their prey. One mite, Lynxacarus morlani, is only found on the bobcat. These parasites are common on bobcats and are a threat to their survival, potentially causing more deaths than starvation and predation.

Bobcats consume birds, fish, insects, rodents, and other small mammals. They are a known predator of many domesticated animals including small dogs, cats, sheep, and goats. They often employ a crouch and pounce hunting technique for small prey much like a house cat hunting a mouse. With larger prey, they will stalk and rush the animal when they get inside 30 feet. With smaller prey, the bobcat will lie, crouch, or stand and wait for prey to come close before they pounce on it. Bobcats can survive long periods without food but gorge themselves when prey is readily available.

Breeding first occurs when bobcats are 2 years old. Dominant males stay with a female, mating with her several times from winter until early spring. Courtship may involve bumping, chasing, ambushing, and loud screams and hisses. Males and females generally mate with more than one partner. Normally 2-3 kittens are born after a gestation period of 60-70 days. Females raise the young on their own and they are weaned at around 2 months. At 3-5 months they can travel with their mother and hunt on their own within their first year. After they are able to hunt alone, they normally separate.

Special Notes:

Here in Bella Vista, bobcats could be spotted although they are mostly solitary. If spotted it would most likely be in secluded, wooded areas. Bobcats generally stay away from busy areas and commotion. Large cats may be mistaken for a bobcat, but they can be distinguished by the pointed ears, short tail, and generally more ornate color patterns compared to house cats. Bobcats themselves may be confused for a mountain lion; however, they are much smaller and lack the characteristic long tail of a mountain lion.

 

 

 

 

 

Species Profile: Butorides virescens – Green Heron

Scientific Name:              Butorides virescens

Common Name(s):          Green Heron, Little Green Heron, Green-backed Heron

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Basar (left), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Butorides_virescens_070506_GWADA.jpg

 

Identification:

Green herons Butorides virescens are relatively small birds which can get up to 14 inches tall and have a wingspan of 25 inches.  Females are slightly smaller than males and their plumage is duller in the breeding season.  Adults have yellow legs and a long, dark, sharp beak.  The top of their head is blackish green and they have blue-gray on their back and wings that fades to green.  Their neck is brown with a white stripe down its length and a white chin.  Juveniles have reddish-brown and white streaks down their head and neck and many white spots on their wings.  Hatchlings have gray down feathers all over except white on their stomachs.  Adults have long necks but keep it pulled in close to their body at rest or while flying.

Range:

The green heron is native to northern South America, Mexico, and the United States.  They migrate north in late winter and early spring then head south August-October.

Ecology:

Green herons inhabit wetlands and other water bodies including wooded ponds, lakes, marshes, and rivers.  They make nests in trees or vegetation by water.  Nests are made of sticks several meters off the ground.  They are monogamous for a breeding season, with the male picking the nesting site and displaying courtship by flying noisily in front of a female with his head and neck feathers puffed out.  Green herons rarely congregate while nesting.  Females lay 2-6 pale green eggs in 2-day intervals.  Both parents incubate eggs until they hatch, normally around 21 days.  Both parents also feed the young and slowly wean them as the young get their flight feathers.  Young can usually fend for themselves when they are a little over a month old.  Occasionally green herons will breed twice a year.

Green herons consume fish, aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, crustaceans, spiders, reptiles, and small rodents.  They feed by stalking prey on the shoreline or from perched on branches above.  They are mainly active during dusk and dawn, hiding during the day unless searching for food.  They sometimes use “bait” to catch fish by dropping food or insects on the water’s surface to attract fish.  When the fish come for the bait, the heron will grab it.

Special Notes:

Here in Bella Vista, green herons can be spotted during their summer breeding season, mainly near the lakes or streams.  They are humorous to watch, especially when they sporadically extend and retract their long neck.