It has a wingspan of up to two metres and is the height of a small child. When it walks on its spindly legs, each step measures 22 centimetres. And its call – a wild, throaty croak – is loud and unmistakeable.
The great blue heron is the largest heron in North America. And – little know fact – Stanley Park is home to one of the biggest urban great blue heron colonies on the continent. Last year, herons built 110 nests in the park and reared 100 little heron fledglings. This month, they’re at it again — back at their nesting grounds near the tennis courts and dazzling park visitors.
I decided to have a look for myself over the weekend. There was some prime heron watching along the western edge of Lost Lagoon (map), adjacent the Stanley Park Pitch and Putt. A stream runs through, and it seems to be popular among the herons, who were congregating in pairs and alone to stalk the shallow water.
Right now is coming to the end of breeding season, when adults have regal plumes on their heads and males are busy courting females with loud cries (Courting couples can often be found crossing their bills . . . though I wasn’t lucky enough to see that). It’s also home improvement time for the heron pairs, who are hard at work building nests or renovating existing ones.
March-April is also when eggs are laid and chicks hatch. During the summer months, young herons begin to leave the nest and attempt their first clumsy flights to feeding grounds. There they learn to snack on fish, frogs and voles.
Interestingly, the great blue heron does not migrate – so they stick around the area year-round. Though normally shy creatures, the herons in Stanley Park have become accustomed to humans and are naturals in front of the camera (of course, it’s always important to maintain a respectful distance and to never disturb the nesting grounds).
Anyone else seen the herons in Stanley Park? Where’s the best spot for heron watching?
Want more updates on Vancouver and beyond? Follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.