The Shitepoke is the colloquial name for two species of heron: Butorides striata, the striated (ridged) heron, and Butorides verescens, the green-backed heron. These two species are sometimes considered conspecific, which is to say, they may be grouped as two variations within the same species. Despite its funny name, the shitepoke is a normal, interesting bird. It is smallish, about 40 centimers / 20 inches long (comparable to a crow), with a wingspan of about 60 cm / 25 inches. It’s similarly shaped to other herons, with long, wading legs, and a pointed beak. The striated heron has feathers patterned in a way that looks like brown ridges running down its body, set off against off-white feathers. The green-backed heron has green feathers on its body, with reddish feathers on its neck.
The shitepoke is native to many, many countries. For the striated heron, these do not include the two most densely noder’ed countries (the United States and United Kingdom), so don’t expect to see one unless you’re on vacation / holiday. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (the IUCN), there are more than 120 countries in all where the shitepoke is known to live. The green-backed heron is found all along the Americas from Latin America north, and in the West Indies. The striated heron is found in many of the more equatorial countries.
The shitepoke prefers to live right near fresh water. Subtropical forests, wetlands (including rivers, swamps, bogs, all of those fun places), and coastline are common places to find this heron. There’s a good reason for this. Like other herons, the shitepoke is a wading bird, and eats small animals (insects, fish, amphibians) in the water where it hunts.
The shitepoke's hunting habits are interesting, since it uses tools — it has been observed to drop bait into the water and spear small animals that come to investigate. This may be a feather that falls off the bird, or other lures that it finds — leaves, bits of trash, even a artificial fishing lure if it finds one. The shitepoke is another nail in the coffin of the theory that animals cannot use tools.
Shitepokes nest individually. Other heron species are known to form colonies with several breeding pairs living in the same nesting area, but the shitepoke generally lives with its current mate. They’re monogamous during each season, but will find a new mate the next season. They prefer to nest in trees, but will almost always nest near water, even if a good-sized tree isn’t available. They will lay a clutch of two to six eggs a year, and both birds will help incubate the eggs over their 20 day incubation period.
Three weeks after hatching, young shitepokes fledge (develop the ability to fly). They usually leave the nest two weeks after that, to found a proud new generation of shitepokes, seeking to right the wrongs of their parents’ generation. But once the bluster is over and they’re settled down, the young shitepokes end up living much the same way as their parents before them. Such is life.
The name probably comes from the hunting habits of the bird — it leaves shit in the water and then pokes at it, although one source claims the name comes from the shitepoke’s habit of crapping while in flight.
If you want to learn more about this bird, you should tell a librarian that you’re interested in shitepokes. Or even better, say you’re interested in Butorides herons. But don’t blame me if you get slapped.
liveforever notes that "several sources online also apply 'shitepoke' to the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) and to the American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)."