The Green-backed heron is one of the smaller of the many herons found within the southern African region, being approximately 41 cm in length. The males and females are similar in both size and plumage colouration, with a black crown; blackish-green back and wings; white throat and upper breast; and the remainder of the under parts grey. The bill is black; legs and feet orange or red; and eyes are orange.
Green-backed herons are widely distributed through the Americas, Australia, southern Asia and Africa and may be known by a variety of names such as the Striated heron, Mangrove heron or Little heron. Within the southern Africa region they are found mainly in the wetter north and west, where their preferred habitat is around rivers, streams and dams, particularly where there are reedbeds or mangroves and where the vegetation overhangs the water.
They are solitary birds and are usually seen skulking amongst the reeds or other vegetation at the water’s edge. They often stand in a hunched position, but may also stand very upright, with bill pointing skyward, much like a Bittern. They feed on fish, frogs, crabs, dragonflies and other insects, and have been known to use bait, for example a small insect, which they float on the surface of the water to attract larger prey.
Green-backed herons are monogamous and build nest in the form of a platform of twigs and reeds, usually quite low down in a tree or shrub, and usually over or near water. The female lays a clutch of between two and five greenish-blue eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 21 days.
The scientific binomial for the Green-backed heron is Butorides striata; Butorides from the Latin for “like a bittern”; and striata from the Latin for “striped”. Thus a striped bird that looks like a bittern. Which is, I suppose, a good enough name, as long as you know what a bittern looks like.