This Great Blue heron caught my eye in Coal Harbour early one morning, where he (or perhaps she?) was fishing off the dock at one of Vancouver’s busiest marinas. With his jewelry (note the banded leg), he seems very “urban chic” – walking calmly among the boats, ever so well adapted to the busy hum of the big city.
Although Great Blue herons usually live about a decade, they can survive to the ripe old age of 18, so perhaps this individual was old and wise to the ways of people. In any event, unlike most herons, he wasn’t easily alarmed – instead he was calm and unruffled, intent on catching breakfast despite the presence of a photographer.
Blue herons stand over a metre tall, and can look elegant or absurd depending on their pose at any given moment. I see them frequently and love watching them wading in the shallows at low tide, fishing off the edge of kelp beds or docks, or sometimes perched on the edge of a dinghy, carefully eyeing the water for any potential prey.
About the only time I dislike seeing them is when they land in our backyard and start chowing down on the newts or red-legged frogs that live in our pond. Fortunately that doesn’t happen often!
Elsewhere in North America, Great Blue herons fly south in the winter. But our coastal Great Blue herons don’t migrate, and over time they have developed into a distinct subspecies with some subtle differences from other Great Blues, such as darker plumage. While their population is considered relatively stable here in BC, they’re “blue-listed”, meaning they’re vulnerable – in particular, toxic contaminants and disturbances around their nesting sites can spell disaster at breeding time.
Four-fifths of BC’s coastal Great Blue herons live around the Strait of Georgia, and about half of these birds nest in just a few large colonies, making those sites very important to heron survival. Of course, about 3 million humans also live around the Strait, so that puts a lot of pressure on herons and their nesting and feeding areas.
We’re lucky to be able to share our region year-round with these awesome birds. If we can protect the habitat they need, and treat them with respect, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to keep on enjoying them as neighbours for a very long time to come.