By Ilana DeBare
Capping a season of successful heron rescues and public education, Golden Gate Audubon Society joined with partners International Bird Rescue and Oakland Zoo last Friday to release seven rehabilitated herons and egrets back into the wild.
We released three young Black-crowned Night-Herons and five Snowy Egrets into the protected marsh area at Martin Luther King Jr. shoreline — a marsh that GGAS helped save from development over the past several decades.
It was an inspiring moment, and one that was captured by media including the San Francisco Chronicle, ABC7, KTVU, KCBS Radio, and the Oakland Tribune. There is nothing like watching birds that have been injured and nursed back to health peer out of their carrier boxes, take a step or two, realize they are no longer in a pen, and spread their wings to fly freely.
Friday’s release was the culmination of our work during the 2016 nesting season protecting and educating people about the heron and egret rookery in downtown Oakland.
All told, we saved the lives of 21 young herons that would otherwise have died from injuries, traffic, or exposure!
This effort began two years ago, after a highly-publicized incident in which Black-crowned Night-heron nests were destroyed by tree trimmers hired by the downtown Oakland post office.
We responded immediately by publishing a brochure in English and Spanish on how to care for trees without harming birds or nests. (You can download the brochure here.) Last year, we broadened our educational initiative by a adding volunteer heron docents, guided bird walks through the rookery, and posters about herons in English and Chinese.
This year, we expanded the docent program and added the rescue component. Twenty-four GGAS volunteers monitored the rookery, counting the nests, explaining the heron colony to passersby, and watching for fallen and injured young birds.
They documented 149 nesting pairs of herons and egrets in central downtown Oakland — 120 pairs of Black-crowned Night-herons and 29 pairs of Snowy Egrets! With each pair producing two to three young, that is a very large rookery — in fact, the second largest night-heron rookery in the Bay Area.
The challenge with an urban rookery like Oakland is that young, not-yet-fledged herons typically clamber around in the branches and often tumble out of the trees. In a natural setting, their fall is cushioned by soil or bushes, and they can sometimes use bushes to climb back up. But in Oakland, the fallen birds hit unforgiving concrete. They often break bones and die from their injuries, exposure, traffic, or starvation.
So we initiated a partnership with IBR and Oakland Zoo to rescue these fallen birds. Our docents contacted the Zoo when they found an injured bird; the Zoo sent veterinary technicians to retrieve the birds and provide triage; then the birds were delivered to IBR for long-term care and rehabilitation.
All 21 Oakland herons have now been healed and released, with leg bands to help track where they end up. The eight birds released on Friday were from similar urban rookeries in Santa Rosa and Sacramento.
In the long run, we’re hoping to find a solution that provides a safer nesting environment for Oakland’s herons and egrets.
For now, we are so appreciative of everyone who helped carry out these rescues — our volunteer docents, our rescue partners at IBR and Oakland Zoo, the East Bay Regional Park District, which provided the MLK Shoreline release site, and the City of Oakland, which has been supportive of our rescue work.
Thank you all! Watching those young egrets and herons flap away, land in the marsh, and start hunting (we even saw one catch its first wild fish!) was an inspiring testament to what we can accomplish working together to protect and enjoy the wildlife in our urban community.
View a VERY short video clip by ABC7 of the Snowy Egrets being released: https://twitter.com/JuanCarlosABC7/status/766731909443493888.
Help us continue to work on behalf of Oakland herons and other Bay Area birds! Generous donors have offered to match all gifts made to Golden Gate Audubon Society through labor Day 2016, up to $7,500. Every dollar you give will become two dollars… plus it’s tax-deductible.