The Blue Heron is a large bird belonging to the Andeidae family. This expansive family includes approximately 60 species world wide. Standing 3 feet tall, and with an incredible wingspan reaching 6 feet, this creature is easily recognizable. Their vast array of coloring is universal: thighs are red-brown in coloring. The neck is rusty gray. A special neck vertebrae allows the neck to curl in to an “S” shape. This allows for easy, and quick striking at prey. The flexibilty of the neck, makes this creature capable of swallowing a fish much wider than the width of its neck. A wide variety of food can be eaten easily including frogs, turtles, snakes, and fish. Blue and white streaks run down the front of the body.
These beauiful creatures with a lifespan averaging 15 years are found near open shores of water. They produce an average of 3-7 offspring. However, an average of 50 young herons are produced annually. In flight the neck curvature improves the herons aerodynamics. So, in-flight speeds average 25 mph, but can reach 35 mph.
The great Blue Heron was named the official bird of Seattle in 2003. In Renton, Washington located 13 miles southeast of Seattle and conveniently located along the shores of Lake Washington rests one of the largest remaining colonies of Blue Herons. Renton’s 93 acre Black River Riparian Forest and Wetland is the place they have made their home. Located northeast of Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 sits Oakesdale Street. An area bustling with a local aerospace giant business, plumbing services, technological businesses and much more. But, resting comfortably 100 feet in the air amongst the Cottonwood trees rests 135 nests filled with herons. Passerbys oblivious to the precious cargo resting high above their vehicles may remain unaware of the nests, as they easily blend in with the foliage of the surroundings.
More than 600 volunteers of the non-profit agency Herons Forever have committed to the protection and safety of the heron population in the area. Sixty acres surrounding the heron nests were initially purchased for $8,000,000 of public funds once the the county recognized the wetlands were worthy of protecting along with the wildlife inhabitants there. The care and maintenance of this land has become one of the largest projects in King County history devoted to the care of wildlife inhabitants. The work the volunteers perform aids in protecting the colony against the continual development occuring around it. One primary threat which has occured against the colony during the past couple of years are eagles. Eagles have been known to, and have been witnessed prancing upon the colony while snatching baby herons directly from their nests. While eagles are the primary predators, hawks and crows have been known to feast on the herons residing in this colony as well. Due to this disturbance along with human interference, and disease this often causes a problem with habitat growth. During the past several years the colony growth has been noted as decreasing by 6% annually. Despite these numbers the Black River Riperian continues to reign as a primary home for many herons. Some herons choose to mate with the same partner year after year. This decision is usually based upon the previous years reproduction success and compatability of the partners. The appearance of black balls resting high in the trees is a welcoming site for many locals who have discovered what this precious existence truly represents.
Today, within the “Salish Sea.” which is the area of the inland waterways of Washington and British Columbia there is a population of approximately 10,000 beautiful Blue Herons.