By Ilana DeBare
“Chalk it up… to compassion for Oakland’s herons.”
That was the slogan for Golden Gate Audubon Society’s first-ever Art Flash Mob — a gathering of local artists and nature lovers to create sidewalk chalk drawings that would inspire people to protect downtown Oakland’s nesting colonies of Black-crowned Night-Herons and Snowy Egrets.
About a dozen artists descended on 13th and Alice Streets just after daybreak last Friday to create the drawings. While the trees overhead thrummed with constant chirps, clicks, gurgles, and squawks, the sidewalks filled with beautiful color images of herons and egrets.
Big thanks to GGAS members Michael and Brenda Helm for helping organize this event, Jack Laws’s Nature Journal Club, Ecological Expressive Arts Organization and its founder Shauna DeGuire, Laurie Wigham and the SF Sketchers Meetup group, and of course all the individual artists.
The leafy ficus and Brisbane box trees of downtown Oakland are home to somewhere between 45 and 85 pairs of nesting herons and egrets, which hunt in nearby Lake Merritt and the Oakland Estuary.
Last year, the colony became the focus of national news when the U.S. Postal Service hired tree trimmers to lop off the tops of trees that held active nests. Several young Black-crowned Night-Herons were injured and taken to International Bird Rescue for rehabilitation.
This year, GGAS is mounting a campaign to protect these nests and encourage Oaklanders to celebrate them as one of the city’s wonderful and unique features.
Th Art Flash Mob was part of this. In addition, GGAS is:
- Holding two public bird walks to explore the nesting colony on the evenings of April 29 and May 6. (Check our web site for starting times and places.)
- Working with nearby elementary schools and child care centers to introduce children and parents to the birds.
- Distributing giant educational posters about the herons in downtown storefronts and public spaces, along with flyers in Chinese. (The colonies are next to Oakland’s Chinatown.)
- Organizing volunteer docents to monitor and gather data on the downtown heron/egret population, and speak with passersby about the birds.
In the long run, we would love to see Oakland do more to protect the young herons and egrets. The City of Santa Rosa, which also has downtown rookeries, has placed traffic cones and soft hay bales under the trees so young birds that fall out of the nest have a better chance of surviving. (Traffic cones would also minimize bird droppings on cars, a common complaint about the rookeries.)
But that’s for a future nesting season. The first step is to raise public awareness and appreciation of these gorgeous birds!
Want to get involved as a heron monitor? Email Marissa Ortega-Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Take a moment in your busy day to look up in those ficus trees! And if you spot a young heron on the ground:
- Watch it first and give it space. It’s normal for young birds to spend time on the ground while learning to fly. The bird should fly after a while.
- If the bird cannot fly, if it’s in the street, or if it looks injured, call a wildlife care center for advice. Two great local resources are the Lindsay Wildlife Museum at (925) 935-1978 and International Bird Rescue at (707) 207-0380.