The herons have returned to their colony

Heron colony. Photo by Michael Schmidt.

Heron colony. Photo by Michael Schmidt.

Every year we wait with bated breath to see if the Pacific great blue herons will return to their colony in Stanley Park. There are never any guarantees that they will, but in the past week they began arriving to the trees that tower above the Park Board’s Administrative Offices and the tennis courts. After a very successful breeding season in 2012, this year is the 13th consecutive year they have returned to this colony.

If you head down to the colony, you can see lots of activity during the day. As the males return to the colony they begin courting females by stretching their necks vertically and emitting loud cries. Courting couples will cross their bills. Together they occupy existing nests or build new ones, improving and maintaining their nest together. The eggs will be laid in late March to April.

Last year, 117 nests were counted in the colony and 86 of these were occupied by heron pairs. In total, an estimated 169 young herons fledged from the colony in 2012, 69 more than in 2011 and 49 more than in 2010. Our conservation team works with a number of volunteer monitors to survey the nests from the ground and from a nearby rooftop, and at the end of the season we pass on the data to researchers with the Canadian Wildlife Service and BC Ministry of Environment.

The Pacific great blue heron has been designated “special concern” by the Species at Risk Act. According to the SPES report, the Stanley Park colony seems to thrive in the face of human disturbance, but “in other parts of our region development is infringing on much of the heron’s habitat.”

SPES has an Adopt a Heron Nest program which supports efforts to learn more about the amazing great blue herons and to protect their homes within Stanley Park.

You can read all about the 2012 breeding season in SPES’ Great Blue Heron Colony Final Report 2012 which came out a few days ago.