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Great blue heron lovers seek peace and quiet for up-Island colony

Fireworks, construction noise can lead to Great Blue Heron colony collapse

As far as neighbours go, Great Blue Herons can be a bit of a nuisance during the summer months.

“It sounds like a pterodactyl,” said John Wood, who has a colony of two nests on his property on the south end of Campbell River. “You hear these God-awful sounds. It’s someone being murdered …. I’ve seen four chicks in the nest. The noise is quite considerable.”

“They are very vocal, but I don’t mind them,” he said.

Despite the noise of his neighbours, Wood is trying to protect them. He was joined by Gillian Anderson from the B.C. Great Blue Heron society in spreading the word about the fragility of the heron colonies, as well as their susceptibility to noise.

“A couple of the heron colonies in Campbell River failed last year because of a lot of too much noise,” Anderson said. “The concern was this year the fireworks, but now there’s a campfire ban which will stop fireworks as well. We’re still hoping that people can understand how they need it to be quiet in the area when they’re nesting.”

The herons nesting on Wood’s property have been there since at least 2019, and last year was the first time the colony failed. Wood said that the birds had returned to the property, but after construction began on a neighbouring property they abandoned their nests for the season. They have returned for the year, and Wood is hopeful that they’ll be around until their chicks reach maturity.

The City of Campbell River has put protections in place for the Great Blue Herons. In 2022, the city updated an existing Development Permit Area (DPA) protecting bald eagle nest trees to also include trees used by herons. The herons are protected under the provincial Wildlife Act, which also covers bald eagles and a number of other at risk bird species, particularly when they are nesting.

“The first line of defense is the local municipal government,” Anderson said. “It’s really important that you have really sensitive community development so that wetlands and large blocks of forest are conserved as much as possible … in a community when you save the wetlands and the forested blocks and whatnot you make your community more livable.”

However, the herons have other vulnerabilities beyond just development, like fireworks and other loud noises.

Though the fire ban for the Coastal Fire Centre includes fireworks, Anderson and Wood are concerned about unsanctioned, one-off fireworks that may be lit despite the ban.

“This is a conundrum. They banned fireworks, but they don’t ban the sale of it,” Anderson said. “So people can still go buy the fireworks, but they’re not allowed to actually set them off.”

The Campbell River Canada Day celebration event organizers received an exemption for the event, chief Dan Verdun said.

“As the display is presented by a professionally certified pyro-technician on a barge in the water with a safety plan and fire watch in place, the fire risk is considered low.”

As a predator at the top of the food chain, herons work to preserve the health of other species like salmon by eating sick and weak smolts, which in turn helps save resources for those stronger fish, Anderson said.

Though the herons can be a bit noisy, Wood said the nesting season is only a few weeks out of the year. During that time, he can watch the birds, collect broken egg shells that fall after chicks hatch, and know that he’s helping steward and support a species that predates Campbell River, with the goal of making sure it has a space within the growing city.

RELATED: Campbell River’s great blue heron habitat protection process moves forward

Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Campbell River Mirror in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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