Monday, April 2, 2012

We Are Family

Great Blue Heron photo by Junie Quiroga

Often on mornings when the tide is going out there's another group of early risers waiting for me to go for my swim, and that's the local great blue herons.  Without any benefit of tide tables or alarm clocks they seem to know the days and times of low tide and when to get out there and go fishing.  Patient and quiet, unless you happen to get too close which may result in a squawk at you to mind your distance, they stand knee deep in the water taking full advantage of their long legs to wade around and wait.

Great Blue Heron beach photo by Junie Quiroga

Whether they are a little self conscious of their height (standing up to 5 feet with a wingspan of 6 feet) or it's part of their hunting strategy, they are usually standing with their long neck curled up but poised to spring as soon as something edible happens by.  Their long, sharp, bill makes for an excellent spear and, while fish are their preferred meal, they aren't averse to snagging crabs, frogs, or even mice for that matter.  It's a good diet too because on average these birds live for 17 years.

Great Blue Heron in Lost Lagoon photo by Junie Quiroga

Heron nests in Stanley Park photo by Junie Quiroga
What's really intriguing about the Great Blue Heron is their incredible sociability, with groups of them nesting together in a "heronry" that can get up to 500 nests.  For some reason in the year 2000 a group of them got the idea for a millenium project and started nesting in the trees above the Parks Board office in Stanley Park.  Good recyclers, they use the same nests every year once they've done a little spring cleaning, and the heronry has now grown to over 100 nests, though 2010 was the peak year with 145 nests and 175 fledglings being produced.

Heron's tending their nests photo by Junie Quiroga
There are 5 distinct sub-species of Great Blue Herons throughout North America, with most of them migrating south in winter.  But the ones in the Pacific Northwest stay here year round, realizing that just because it rains a lot it doesn't mean you have to spend all that time and energy, not to mention money, heading to South America with everyone else.  Other than the nasty raccoons who are always trying to get at their eggs, living in Stanley Park seems to suit these birds rather well, and they don't seem to mind all the people either. 
Great Blue Herons living the beach life photo by Junie Quiroga
Having English Bay close by with all the amenities also adds to the pleasure of living here.  Where else can you get a water slide, hot dogs and a cold beer right on your doorstep?  For the Great Blue Herons in Vancouver, life is a beach and, with over 100 nests and at least 2 adults and one fledgling per nest, that adds up to over 300 herons calling this place home.  Quite a family indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic article. Beautiful pictures and as always, a very informative article. They sure have chosen a wonderful place to call home..