What you don’t know about the heron colony in Stanley Park

Did you catch the news about the “heron cam” installed on the roof of the Vancouver Parks Board building? It’s pointed directly at Stanley Park’s great blue heron rookery, which happens to be conveniently located directly above the park board’s back parking lot in a canopy of towering maple trees. Awesome, right?

It’s totally awesome, if you get to enjoy the birds via a brief in-person visit, or from the comfort of your own nest, where you can, say, employ your ‘mute’ button anytime you please, and catch the whiff of nothing but your morning coffee.

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Let me explain: the Parks Board building, where the heron cam is mounted, is located at 2099 Beach Avenue. For over a decade, I lived right next door, at 2095 Beach Avenue, which is the last private apartment residence before Stanley Park.

Living next to the park, you get to see all sorts of astounding wildlife every day, and I loved the herons. It was like watching pterodactyl scenes from Jurassic Park through your front window. The graceful, enormous birds slowly built up their nests in the early spring, until the tops of the maples were filled.

The rookery has continued to grow so much that the City now refers to it as “one of North America’s largest urban colonies of Pacific great blue herons”. What incredible birds to live side-by-side with, eh?

With all due respect to the herons, they weren’t exactly Ned and Edna Flanders. Here’s what the real estate agents won’t tell you: being neighbours with a heron colony is like living next door to John Belushi and the wildest non-stop frat party of all time.

For one thing, my human neighbours and I quickly learned that blue herons are “seasonally monogamous”. That means, much like many other West End residents, they’re picking a different mate every season. And heron courtship was pretty much like having horny next door neighbours who love loud and obnoxious sex in a group setting. We’re talking days and nights of non-stop shrieking and beak clattering.

Once the eggs are laid, the herons would go into major protection mode. If they sensed any threat whatsoever, benign or real, their version of the Neighbourhood Watch Program was to completely freak out, collectively erupting into total cacophony: squawking, croaking, and wickedly screeching, then snapping those barber scissor-like beaks, which created an unbelievable, Tarzan movie-like, sleep-proof din that would go on for hours. But hey, we dealt with it; the herons did what they had to do to save the eggs. Who could blame them? But then there was the…uh…other shitty thing about living beside a heron colony.

It doesn’t take a bird brain to do the math: last year alone, the great blue heron colony at 2099 Beach Avenue had about 100 nests, which yielded around 130 of the most demanding chicks this side of Shaughnessy. With two full grown and exasperated parent herons per nest, that’s the upwards of 330 giant birds living right next door!

Picture if you will the sheer gargantuan amount of excrement 330 herons create, which splattered down from their treetop thrones, a literal shit storm all summer long. Over at 2095 Beach Avenue, the herons’ 24-hour poo party wasn’t too nasally noticeable, until it would rain. Then our entire neighbourhood would reek like a circus wagon for days.

But hey, who am I to poo-poo our storky, feathered friends? According to the City, the new remote-controlled wireless camera will give you “a window on the world of these magnificent birds from courtship through egg laying, until the grown chicks fledge in late summer. Tune in often to watch the drama of new life unfolding in our nests.”

I, for one, will be watching the drama of these admittedly magnificent birds…from the comfort of my home in furthest East Vancouver.


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