by | Aug 15, 2020 | Birds, Wildlife



Don’t make a sound or you’ll blow his cover.

Just sit quietly and watch. Butorides virescens, aka the Green Heron, is a master of stealth and stillness.

He* doesn’t work for the CIA or MI6; he’s a freelancer but not a mercenary. He’ll never be the hero of a John le Carré novel, and he won’t be staring in the movie adaptation either (at 18 inches tall he doesn’t have the stature).  And that’s just fine, because true espionage professionals make it their business to fly under the radar. 

From afar his countenance is adequately nondescript — a medium framed, slightly hunched, dark-hued avian with a long nose and a truncated tail.

Like all the best tailoring, quality is in the details and best viewed up close: a dark mossy green jacket, edged in silver, worn over an understated taupe vest. Add a rich chestnut ascot, a flat driving cap in British racing green, and a pop of mellow yellow statement socks to complete the ensemble. His fashion sense is more evolved than George Smiley’s, no doubt. He’s impeccably stylish but nothing too flashy.

Our man* Heron spends the autumn and winter months in Central America, but spring and summer might be spent in the Pacific Northwest, or anywhere east of the 100th meridian. That is, unless he has a domicile on the West Coast, from California to Panama, or the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, or the Caribbean, in which case he’s a year-round resident… but that doesn’t mean he’ll stay in one place the whole time. This international man of mystery likes to keep those who try to track his movements (including birders) guessing.

Greenie, as he’s known to friends, spends his days and nights at the local watering hole, reflecting on a mirrored liquid surface, deep in thought or meditation… or so it seems to the untrained eye.  In fact, he’s trolling for intel just below the surface, spying on submerged fauna, waiting for just the right moment and then…

… he identifies a target who offers the kind of juicy morsel that will satisfy his hunger.

This shamus is no stranger to stakeouts. Moreover, unlike most of his associates, he can make and use tools.  Greenie’s sources are always on the lookout for some new tidbit and he knows just how to bait his snare. For instance, he’ll cast bread upon the waters — literally (in this case the phrase is not metaphor for good deeds done without expectation of reward). Then again, it could be a dead insect, a down feather, a small twig or leaf… crumbs strategically dropped to causes a ripple. Someone down below is bound to bite and then — SNAP! — they’re in the trap. Off to HQ to file a report, or maybe make the rounds to check out other fishing grounds.

Obviously, there’s more to the spying life than surveillance. All the details and demographics that provide a reason (and cover) for one’s career. Anything less than a full, rich, three-dimensional life, including a home and family, would raise suspicions.

From all appearances, Greenie is a devoted parent… and in this case the veneer is valid. He and his mate are seasonally monogamous, pairing up in response to a passionate display of interest on his part. Once an agreement of mutual attraction has been reached the couple makes haste to procreate. Both Mom and Dad incubate their nascent brood of 2 to 6 pale green (naturally) eggs, they co-parent the youngsters from the time they hatch, 19 to 20 days after the last nest-egg deposit is made, until they are able to fend for themselves.

It all happens in the blink of an eye, though, because these offspring grow up fast. Reared on grownup stories of daring, grit, and glory, they’ll leave home at about 16 (days) and start their apprenticeship. By the time they reached 30 or 35 (days) it’s time to set off in search of somewhere to establish their own branch location of the family “business.”

It’s only after they following in Dad’s footsteps, bugging and fishing and seining the depths of the underworld, that these green recruits realize sleuthing is usually more tedium than thrills.

Talk about hurry up and wait.


**Or is he a she? Impossible to determine without a formal introduction so we’ll stick with the cultural default of “male.” This time.

© 2020 Next-Door Nature— no reprints without written permission from the author. Thanks to the following photographers who made their work available through Creative Commons License: Jen Goellnitz, Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith, Judy Gallagher, Dennis Church, Diana Robinson, South Florida Water Management, and Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith.