Great Blue Herons are fascinating birds that can live up to 20 years. These majestic animals can grow to up to 4.5 feet tall and have a wingspan of over 6.5 feet wide, and they are living right in our wild backyard! Seattle is home to heron colonies in Kiwanis Ravine and Commodore Park, as well as in the North Beach neighborhood, the West Duwamish Greenbelt, Matthews Beach, and the University of Washington campus. As is the case in most Green Seattle Partnership projects, progress in these parks is a labor of love by many partners working together – often agency staff alongside professional crews and our amazing and tireless volunteers. In Kiwanis Ravine, levy-funded restoration work in recent years was accomplished by contracted professionals under the direction of Seattle Parks staff. Washington also hosts heron colonies in the Black River Riparian Forest of Renton and on Samish Island near Bow, at the mouth of the Skagit River valley. Herons hunt for fish at the Locks near Kiwanis Ravine and along Puget Sound and Lake Washington shorelines.
Year after year, the herons return to their nests and spend several weeks in courtship to select a mate for the season. The female typically lays three to five eggs, which both parents alternate incubating for about 28 days. Heron chicks typically fledge (fly from the nest) in two months. However, young from late nests may not fledge until late summer. During an undisturbed season, two to four chicks typically fledge per nest.
The dedicated volunteers who have made incredible progress restoring habitat fit for Seattle’s Official City Bird at Commodore Park, a group known as the Heron Habitat Helpers, invite you to join them this month for two events to watch the nesting herons in action. Naturalists will be on hand to answer questions, and telescopes will be set up for visitors to use to spy on over 50 nests in Commodore Park this spring. These events are free and everyone is welcome! This is a great family outing for all generations.
Saturday, April 2
Observe the herons as they do some nest building – the male herons bring the twigs, and if acceptable, the female places it in the nest. Watch them incubate eggs and protect the colony, or stand in the water with their steely gaze ready to spear a fish.
Saturday, April 30
We will hopefully be able to see some heron chicks. Bonus is, we will be celebrating the chicks hatching with birthday cake!
**Join us for one or both events at Commodore Park near the Ballard Locks Fish Ladder on the Magnolia side. Drop by anytime between 1:00 and 3:00 pm!**
As the spring wears on, check out the park on your own and see if you can catch these beautiful birds as their chicks grow and get ready to leave the nest. Bring your own pair of binoculars if you have them!
Do you stop restoration events in the Spring to avoid disturbing nesting herons? There is a SER student group at UW removing ivy below a heron rookery. I worry their activity might discourage herons from returning to their original nesting site. Restoration is awesome, but timing seems important. Should they put volunteer events on hold until the fledglings leave the nest? Thanks for any ideas.
The Heron Habitat Helpers avoid doing restoration work around nesting areas during nesting season! I would suggest reaching out to the Heron Habitat Helpers – http://www.heronhelpers.org for other ideas and advice.