Why do we care about herons?

Heron nesting on Bowen Island

A heron nesting
A heron nesting (photo courtesy Cherie Westmoreland)

For almost twenty years, herons have been nesting in Snug Cove, and some years elsewhere on the island. Nesting has been disrupted frequently in recent years, especially by human and eagle activity. Our herons are a “Blue-listed” species, and are very much at risk.

Nest locations:

  • Lagoon/Melmore nest site, in cherry, maple, and evergreens
  • Senator Road South cul de sac nest site, in firs
  • Snug Cove, Galbraith Bay, and Hunter Park areas

Herons sometimes change nest sites, especially when disturbed by eagles or humans. No nest should be approached in case there is an incubating heron in it that might be disturbed. Similarly, no nest should be assumed to be abandoned until a qualified biologist has checked and been able to confirm (remember that our herons are a Blue-listed species).

Wondering about a project you are planning and whether it will interfere with the herons?

We are in the sensitive period when courtship, nest building, and early incubation takes place. Activities that produce irregular loud noise such as hammering, nail guns, and leaf blowers should be avoided within 100 metres of all active heron nests, for example, while grass mowing is fine, so please check. Noises, tree removal, and other activities can cause herons to abandon nesting, or extend the nesting season which can causing scheduling difficulties for nearby projects.

Requests for permits and questions about the Municipal Heron Protection Policy should be sent to Senior Bylaw Officer Bonny Brokenshire (bbrokenshire@bimbc.ca), or to Tom McComb (Tom.McComb@metrovancouver.org) if concerning Crippen Park lands.

The Bowen Municipal Heron Protection Policy is based on observations of our local Bowen herons and how they have been observed to react to noise. Note that this local policy is less strict than the Provincial Government’s, which includes the wording “‘Molestation of wildlife’ is an offence under the Wildlife Act, and even walking near the nest or loud noises from equipment may be considered ‘molestation’ if this causes the birds to abandon active nests”.

Want to attract visitors to Bowen Island?

Herons are exactly the kind of feature that nature-oriented visitors appreciate, as do many islanders. Victoria and Vancouver both promote their heron colonies to attract international visitors. Stanley Park’s heroncam received 50,000 hits in the first 5 days in spring 2015 (watch out: it’s addictive!).

As of 2014, our herons were the only herons known to nest in all of Howe Sound.

Keep us informed

Please pass along any reports of herons for the ongoing records to Sue Ellen Fast, at 0483 or sefast@shaw.ca. We’re especially interested in sightings of herons in trees or nests, or seen carrying sticks.

Bowen Heron Watch is a joint project of the Bowen Nature Club and the Bowen Island Conservancy.

April 5 2014: Speaker Series session about herons

Ross Vennesland, a local ecologist with specialized knowledge of Great Blue Herons and their habits, provided us with an informative presentation about herons.

March 2014: On a personal note …

A heron wading in the water
A heron wading in the water (photo courtesy Will Husby)

Owen Plowman wrote the following letter to the Undercurrent:

Why should we care about a few herons?

Dear Editor,

Heron nesting season is now underway this year, and to ensure that everybody understands why protection of these birds is important, the Bowen Island Conservancy is co-sponsoring (with the Bowen Island Eco-Alliance and the Bowen Nature Club) a public presentation at 3:00 pm on Saturday, April 5th, at Collins Hall. Our speaker will be Ross Vennesland, a local ecologist with specialized knowledge of Great Blue Herons, their habits, and the threat of human encroachment. Everybody is welcome to attend this informative session.

The Conservancy Board feels that protection of our herons is an important issue. Last year I sent an email message to the Conservancy membership asking for assistance in ensuring that herons were not disturbed during their nesting season. I sent the message because I encountered an Island resident using a chainsaw to illegally buck logs in Crippen Park, extremely close to the nests behind the Library.

To my astonishment, I received a response from a Conservancy member who was incensed that I would waste my time worrying about birds when (in this member’s words) there are other, more important issues to address. Among other things, the member wrote: “ … if they don’t like the noise and activity that occurs in Snug Cove why the hell would they choose to live there? There are thousands of other equally suitable trees for nesting all over Bowen Island …“.

It’s unfortunate that this member is so out of touch with nature, and has little regard for a species that is protected precisely because of the danger that human encroachment poses for its nesting areas and habits. Since we don’t know what goes on in a heron’s brain, it’s unreasonable to judge them by our own standards and expect that if they don’t like the surrounding environment they will move. It’s very likely that many factors which we would never consider influence their decision to use a particular nest.

As is the usual practice, if we simply do what we want with our natural environment then one day our children, or children’s children, will look back wistfully and say “There used to be herons nesting in our village; of course, they’ve all gone now.”

See you on April 5th.

Bowen Island Conservancy
Owen Plowman, President