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The Herons Formerly Known As…

A few months ago, I co-authored an e-book with some folks at BirdsCaribbean on Caribbean waterbirds. You can find out more about it as well as download it (for free) in three languages here. In it, I wrote about two species of small herons that are found in T&T. Herons I’ve enjoyed the privilege of observing for extended periods of time – all the while learning more and more about their behaviour.

Formerly considered a single species – Green-backed Heron – new knowledge has led to a split into Striated Heron and Green Heron. There is a third closely related species called the Lava Heron which is endemic to the Galapagos Islands – but some scientists consider this to be just a subspecies of Green Heron.

We’re fortunate to be one of the few nations in which both species can be found, although they are island-specific. On Trinidad, you’d be able to find Striated Herons attending to virtually every waterway, even in some urban and suburban areas.

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Things take on a different flavour in Tobago, and the similar looking Green Heron occupies the niche the Striated controls in Trinidad. This particular individual is in breeding plumage, hence the legs are flushed pink, and it’s got some extra plumes on its back. Hormones!

green heron-3







Now you may be able to recognize the differences here, but do know that these herons have been known to hybridize, creating offspring that lie somewhere on the continuous spectrum between Striated Heron and Green Heron. I photographed what I still think could be a hybrid Striated x Green some years ago, and of course have since lost the photo. Oh well.

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