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Pacific great blue herons return to Stanley Park courting grounds

Glen Schaefer

Great blue herons just returned to the giant trees above the Park Board offices near Beach Ave. and Park Lane. The majestic birds have been nesting in the tree at the edge of Stanley Park for several years now. (Mark van Manen/Postmedia Network)

Great blue herons just returned to the giant trees above the Park Board offices near Beach Ave. and Park Lane. The majestic birds have been nesting in the tree at the edge of Stanley Park for several years now. (Mark van Manen/Postmedia Network)

They’ve been hunkered down all winter, but now Pacific great blue herons have returned to Stanley Park looking for love.

“The males are out there claiming nests and they’re doing all kinds of awesome visual displays,” urban wildlife specialist Greg Hart said Tuesday. “They’re holding their beaks up, showing off their long chest plumes.”

The Mick-Jagger-with-feathers act is all in the interest of breeding the next generation of herons. Herons were first documented breeding in the park in 1921 near Brockton Point. They later moved to a spot near the old zoo, and have been nesting in a stand of trees near the park’s Beach Avenue tennis courts since 2001.

Hart, who works with the Stanley Park Ecological Society, said heron colonies change their nesting spots every 20 or 30 years.

The population of these herons has declined steadily since the 1980s. Disruptions by bald eagles and by human development takes a toll during breeding season. Last year, Stanley Park had 83 active nests and an estimated 138 fledglings were raised.

As many as 5,000 Pacific great blue herons call Canada home, of which 3,300 live around the Salish Sea. The global populations stands at between 9,500 and 11,000 adults.

Hart said the birds are fun to watch at this time of year, but he cautioned spectators against feeding the birds. The society maintains a live webcam link at vancouver.ca/HeronCam

Online viewers can take control of the camera for short periods of time and zoom into specific nests, as well as ask questions of a biologist via Twitter using the hash tag #HeronTalk.

The birds don’t fly south for the winter, instead feeding on fish in the shallow intertidal eel grass beds along the Fraser River and the mudflats of Boundary Bay. Females bulk up on fish to give them the energy to lay eggs.

The birds were spotted in the Stanley Park trees at the beginning of March, but headed back to their fishing grounds when the snows returned. They didn't come back for good this year until March 11.

Hart said it isn’t known why the herons move their nesting grounds every couple of decades, but he said they would likely keep coming back to this location for several more years if they aren’t disturbed.

gschaefer@postmedia.com

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