Bird watching is one thing, but the large Pacific Great Blue Herons is a whole other visual and auditory experience.
Add this stop to your weekend “what to do list.” And bring your camera.
They’re back at Stanley Park, Vancouver, for the 20th consecutive year. It seems this place is their version of a holiday getaway.
They began returning February 21 to a colony located at the Park Board offices on Beach Avenue. It’s one of North America’s largest urban heron colonies.
Last year, it is estimated there were 82 active nests in the colony, three fewer than in 2018, with 112 fledglings raised in 2019, 14 more than in 2018.
The Park Board Heron Cam is once again live-streaming with a birds-eye view of 40 nests until the end of the breeding season in August. Viewers can take control of the camera, zooming in on multiple nests, using different angles.
Here is a capture of herons mating on the Heron Cam:
“The number of active nests and fledglings raised last year is consistent with previous years indicating the nesting site is favourable to the herons’ breeding success,” said Park Board Chair Camil Dumont.
“We encourage residents to check out our Heron Cam and watch throughout the breeding season as herons are born, raised, and fledged.”
The SPES Stanley Park Heronry Annual Report 2019 says winter temperatures last year persisted into March, and the herons delayed their arrival until conditions better suited them. Previous colony records show the herons arrived by mid-February, with the earliest recorded date being January 15.
In 2018, the first eggs were sighted on March 29, and the first hatchlings were recorded on April 28. Juveniles first started their “flight test” exercises around mid-June, strengthening their wings for fledging, and the first fledges happened in the beginning of July. While heron fledglings usually leave after 60 days or 8-9 weeks from hatching, the fledglings in this colony did not take off until 10-12 weeks after hatching.
Of note, fewer eagle attacks were observed last year compared to the previous year. Bald eagles are one of the biggest threats and stressors of heron colonies. Three eagle mating pairs successfully raised five nestlings in Stanley Park last year.
Two heron nests, each with two chicks (likely on their second clutch—after eagles attacked their first clutch), remained until they fledged in mid-September, which is an unusually late end for the Stanley Park colony’s season.
This year, the Park Board will offer a moderated Facebook Live Q and A, where SPES staff will answer questions about the herons. SPES will set up a weekly in-person interpretation at the colony to answer questions and share colony news. Those interested can follow the Park Board and SPES pages on Facebook to receive updates.
The Pacific Great Blue Heron is unique because it does not migrate. Their natural year-round habitat is the Fraser River delta which is under pressure from urban development, resulting in the loss of feeding and breeding grounds. One-third of Great Blue Herons worldwide live around the Salish Sea and the Stanley Park colony is a vital part of the south coast heron population.
Heron Cam is a collaborative effort between the Park Board and SPES, who have an Adopt a Heron Nest program, which supports efforts to educate, monitor and maintain the herons and protect their home in Stanley Park.