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The Long Goodbye to Green Herons, Bird of the Year 2015

Most of North America’s migratory birds have moved on to points south, piling into the Caribbean and Central and South America to wait out the next few months like they have for millennia. So it is for the Green Heron, too. Though much of the southern tier of the ABA Area will hold a few through the winter, the rest of us will probably have to wait until next year to once again see the smart little shitepoke on our marshes and rivers. By that point it will be 2016, and we will have moved on to another species (species and artist already on board and I can’t wait to share them).

But we still have time. For most ABA birders in the Lower 48 and southern Canada, there’s still a chance to see Green Herons, be they lingering in places they spent the summer or, more likely, stopping over on their way south. You can even hear them as they pass over along with the rest of the last pieces of fall migration. The eBird map for the last month certainly shows them scattered, but scattered widely across the eastern half of the continent and in most parts of the Pacific coast.

GRHE Oct

We birders make a big deal about First of Years, but accounting for Last of Years is less precise. Birds rarely seem to pack up and leave like a ghost overnight. Their numbers ebb, as the breeding birds move on to be replaced by breeding birds from farther north and so forth and so on until one day you’re out in the field and you think to yourself that you haven’t seen a Green Heron in something like three weeks where there used to be one or two in that marsh by your local patch.  Maybe that makes me a blundering birder to miss missing them one day.  I generally go through my daily routine with an eye towards what’s around me, but when one species slowly winks out for the season it’s easy to ignore.  One week I notice a Green Heron tucked back on a willow branch, and the next, I’m wondering where they all got off to. There seems to be no single moment to see them off.  I can’t say I noticed a last Green Heron.

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Thankfully there’s eBird, which tells me that my the last Green Heron was about a month ago at Pea Island NWR on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I was running an Outer Banks Big Day for the Wings Over Water festival with a handful of intrepid birders. The impoundments at Pea Island were crammed with birds, as they often are in fall and winter, so we noted the Green Heron and moved on to running up our big total. It was a good day with lots of great birds, but that Green Heron was the only one we had. Barring an unlikely winter discovery farther inland where I live, it was my last for 2015 though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time.

So as we reach the end of the year of the Green Heron, try to recognize your last of the year. Share it here in the comments if you can.  Together we can offer one final recognition to the this charismatic and uniquely accessible Bird of the Year.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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  • Quentin Brown

    Here in Vancouver, Canada there is a lingering green heron entertaining birders. According to ebird, probably the most northerly green heron at the moment. And I agree, far more difficult to remember the last day one sees a bird.

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