One of the most wonderful aspects of living in Benicia is the magnificent waterfront and diverse marine wildlife. Because Benicia is on the Pacific Flyway, shorebirds stop over on their migrations and nest here, including Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Black-Crowned Night Herons, American Black Oystercatchers, Great Blue Herons, cormorants, osprey, gulls, and Green Herons.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I noticed a stout Green Heron (Butorides virescens) at the Benicia Marina. We became quite interested in him and nicknamed him “Greenie.” He doesn’t seem to migrate. The Benicia Marina is his home. The marina ecosystem provides all his needs – food, shelter of trees, water, and a relatively safe environment from predators.
2020 was apparently not a successful breeding season – we’d heard that one Green Heron chick had been born, but it’s rumored to have fallen out of the tree. This year was an entirely different story. In February, Greenie was making his presence known more often, perching in the willow trees, calling out for a mate.
Greenie searches for a mate.
Greenie carries a stick to build a nest.
Typically, during mating season, the male Green Heron starts building the nest and the female adds the finishing touches. In March, Greenie built the first nest in a large tree near the car turnaround at the end of the marina, which wasn’t an ideal location.
Greenie gives his female mate a tour (Greenie on the right; female on the left).
The female Green Heron plucks twigs from a willow tree to build nests.
The mating pair were pretty secretive and protective during breeding season. We found evidence of a chick that did not survive beneath the first nest: a pile of fluffy feathers. But soon after, we saw three Green Herons flying together, so we believe there was one successful chick from this first brood. By the time we saw the offspring, it pretty much looked like an adult.
The female mate was quite tireless in her efforts to build more nests. We joked that she decided the first nest was a dump (or at least unsuitable), as she proceeded to simultaneously build three more nests in the trees along the marina walkway. The juvenile Green Heron from the first brood assisted with the nests for a few weeks, then seemed to move on.
In early April, we spotted a new Green Heron chick in one of the nests, and we believe this chick survived. We noticed that the mating pair were not happy about our presence. Greenie would hiss if we even walked beneath one of the nests; the female would dart about and call out a warning sound. We decided to respect their boundaries and not visit daily. We kept our visits brief and at a safe distance.
Both parents had their work cut out for them to protect the eggs. One tended the nest while the other fed. On one visit, in early June, we came across a squirrel attempting to steal the eggs from one of the nests. On another occasion, we saw a Black-Crowned Night Heron attempting to divebomb one of the nests.
For a few weeks, it was quiet as the clutches of eggs were being tended to and chicks were being hatched. We saw broken blue eggshells along the walkway and, sadly, two deceased chicks on the sidewalk beneath the nests. As June ended, there were chicks in more than one nest! By mid-July, there had been a total of up to four broods. We counted seven successful offspring in total.
Fledglings, out of the nest, waiting to be fed.
Here, the feathers are more defined.
At the end of July, we witnessed feeding time. The female parent would land some distance away from the fledglings. They had to scramble and hop over the rocks to reach her. We were able to watch this on two occasions. The second time, the chicks were able to jump and fly to mama for feeding. It was quite amazing to see the female teaching her babies how to move across the rocks and, later, how to fly!
Two fledglings being fed via regurgitation, mama in the middle.
We’ve since seen Greenie, his mate, and several offspring. Although the offspring and female may leave until next nesting season, Greenie isn’t likely to leave his home. So, this spring, if you’re walking the marina, look up into the trees, look for bird guano below, and observe the rocks along the waterline. You just might see some chicks and Green Heron parents!
All photos by Corinne Bailey.