Be on the lookout for Great Blue Heron

Biologist asks residents for information on the vulnerable species

The next time you’re on a walk in Pemberton, take note if you see a Great Blue Heron.

The large blue-grey bird, distinguishable by its one-metre stature, white head, yellow bill, and long thin neck, is on a list of vulnerable species ranked by the province of British Columbia and has been ever since their population began declining 50 years ago. And although the Great Blue Heron is protected locally and federally, they have struggled to find undisturbed sites for nesting.

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Unfortunately, humans are to blame. The same assets that attract the Great Blue Heron to a location also attract humans, and human presence as far away as 200 metres from a nesting site can cause the birds to abandon it.

Vancouver biologist Greg Ferguson specializes in species at risk and is leading a volunteer project in Pemberton to find out where the vulnerable avian is hanging out, in the hopes of alerting government and forestry workers so they can avoid disturbing nesting sites.

“We know that there are herons in that area, so there is a gap, a disconnect,” he said. “We don’t know where they are nesting.”

Fortunately, the Great Blue Heron is a colonial nesting bird; where there is one there will often be many.

The herons are right now in the later part of the breeding season; they have already mated and are laying eggs or tending to chicks.

Ferguson is hoping that from now until August, when the chicks will be grown, he can discover where the nesting colonies are in Pemberton.

Currently there is very little information on Great Blue Heron nesting sites in Pemberton, but the area is ripe with ideal habitat.

“Riparian habitat — the areas adjacent to water bodies — are quite intact in Pemberton,” said Ferguson, adding that the abundance of cottonwoods make it ideal for Great Blue Herons to nest.

Pemberton’s rural nature is also an asset. “If we compared the habitat of Pemberton to other areas in the South Coast region, the habitat of Pemberton is quite undeveloped,” said Ferguson. “We’re also on the cusp in the sense that there is getting to be more pressure in that area so it’s good to get ahead of the curve.”

Ferguson is hoping that volunteers will tell him where and when they see any Great Blue Herons, whether they are standing, flying, or ideally, in a nest.

It’s not just the herons he wants sighting information on, it’s bald eagles as well. Eagles prey on the chicks of Great Blue Herons, but sometimes a pair can guard the colony from other eagles coming in.

“It’s like the Mafia,” said Ferguson. “They can be good to you if you’re good to them, but they can also come in and get your family.”

If you see a Great Blue Heron, make sure to note the location, like One Mile Lake, but also accurate details, like the north end at 2 p.m. and flying eastward into a set of trees.

“It’s not rocket science. It can be tricky to find out where they’re going but sometimes it’s really easy, like you’ll see one fly right into a tree,” Ferguson said.

Send him your sighting details by email at pembertonheron@gmail.com or by phone at 604-349-4760.

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