Heron Habitat Helpers monitors and spreads the word on Seattle’s official bird

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I HAVE CHOSEN THE perfect day to join the Heron Habitat Helpers gathered at Commodore Park in Magnolia: great blue herons have been flying nearby for weeks, but on this day they finally started selecting breeding nests. Males collect twigs to build their chosen nests and attract females.

“They started deciding, ‘This is mine,'” Linda Marsh tells me, as we look up into the treetops.

She has been a volunteer Heron Habitat Helper since 2013. Her father, Mike Marsh, a 20-year-old helper, is here in a cap wearing a heron. A scientist by training, he loves the digital aspect: from late winter through summer, trained volunteer monitors keep a running count of how many birds show up that year, how many chicks are born and how many of them survive long enough to fly away. theirs.

The group set up a table in the park with information for people stopping to view Seattle’s official bird. Volunteers answer questions.

“I think it’s important for people to know that we have wildlife right here in the city,” says volunteer Marla Master.

The group was founded in 2001, when neighbors Heidi Carpine and Donna Kostka noticed that the nearby Kiwanis Ravine, then home to many heron nests, was full of invasive plants and trash. “They kind of brought the neighborhood together and started protecting the herons,” says Master.

First step: habitat restoration. The group cleared the ravine – pulling out ivy, digging up blackberry bushes and adding native plants.

They are still doing clean-up and planting projects in heron territory, but they have taken up tracking heron numbers and bird health. “This data is available to Fish and Wildlife and anyone who does any type of research,” Master said.

The herons eventually moved into the towering trees of Commodore Park, where they are often easy to see from the grassy area below. In late April and early May, visitors will hear the heron’s chicks crying for food. (This is the largest colony in Seattle. Herons also nest on the University of Washington campus, in Marymoor Park, and at the north end of Lake Washington in Kenmore.)

Heron Habitat Helpers hold public events where members set up telescopes so people can get a better view of bird activity.

Why herons? At 4 feet tall and with a wingspan of 6 feet, the birds are easy to spot and a delight to watch. “They’re such a fun combination of sleek, goofy, and beautiful,” says Linda Marsh. “When you see herons, you can see how birds are dinosaurs.”

Carol Tofle had just moved to Ballard in 2019 when a stranger on a bicycle noticed her looking at heron nests in the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden and directed her to the Heron Habitat Helpers on the other side Ballard Locks. She joined on the spot. “If I had the chance to go back and start my life over, I would be a wildlife biologist because I love observing animal behavior,” she says.

The male birds that day at the park occasionally stop to puff their feathers and shout in a “Look at me!” To display. Some of them have already paired up and click their beaks or intertwine their long necks with mates. As we speak, volunteers scan the trees, looking for meaningful moments. Some of the herons are already working, uh, breeding. “Someone’s taking care,” Tofle said with a chuckle.

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