With a wing span of close to two meters and a call described as a harsh squawk, the presence of Great Blue Herons around Shuswap Lake hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Although herons have lived in the vicinity of Foothill Road near the Mount Ida Cemetery, as well as in North Canoe, their most recent choice of real estate appears to be between the 700 block of Fifth Street SE and Second Street SE.
Some residents in the area have wondered how their new large-winged neighbours will be affected by a multi-family residential development planned nearby at 791 Fifth St. SE.
“They’re not the best neighbour, kind of noisy, they’re not the song bird we wish they were. But they’re beautiful,” remarked David Harriman who lives nearby. “It would be a real shame if they took a nest down in one of the trees or eliminated the buffer zone that’s necessary for them to feel secure enough to procreate.”
Because the heron’s main call sounds like ‘frank,’ says a B.C government fact sheet, the bird is known in some places as ‘Old Frankie.’ As well as the ‘frank’ call, herons can apparently be heard clucking, snapping their beaks or mooing like a calf.
Harriman began watching the herons in March, observing them come home to roost around 5 p.m. with a beak full of fish after a hard day’s work at the lake.
“It’s really neat the way they pull their neck back and put out their legs.”
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Neighbour Glynne Green has also been observing the birds from his property and says he can hear the distinct sounds of baby birds these days.
Brothers Randy and Roderick Reimer have received rezoning approval for their 0.28 hectare parcel at 791 Fifth St. SE, which is designated high density residential in the city’s official community plan. They plan to build eight units in the form of four duplexes. They haven’t gone through the development permit process yet, which guides form and character of the project.
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Roderick says they’ve been in touch with the city and the federal government regarding the herons, as well as an arborist from the Lower Mainland who is familiar with such situations. He says they will follow the provincial government’s ‘Develop with Care’ environmental guidelines pertaining to herons. The guidelines recommend timing construction carefully, by avoiding any new disturbance between Jan. 15 and Sept. 15 when herons are nesting.
Roderick says the trees housing the nests are not on their property, but they will maintain a prescribed distance until nesting is done.
“Which I think we can quite easily do by structuring how we develop.”
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The communications department of the provincial environment ministry responded to inquiries by stating: “Great Blue Herons, their nests and their eggs are protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, administered by the federal government. They are also protected by the British Columbia Wildlife Act (S.34) which is administered by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.”
Ed McDonald, president of the Shuswap Naturalists Club, says he’s seen the herons carrying branches near Fifth Street. The naturalists used to record herons for the provincial government; he says the birds used to always nest in cottonwoods but have changed to evergreens, probably because of outside pressures. McDonald remembers about 50 herons living near the cemetery on Foothill Road for about 10 years. In 2006, some moved to North Canoe.
“In May we would go there and the shells would be cracking; it was like being in a hail storm. It’s kind of a neat phenomenon. They’re colony nesters, so they get five or six nests really close together.”
According to the environment ministry, the biggest Great Blue Herons are 135 centimetres tall (more than four feet), but weigh only two to three kilograms. They lay two to five eggs, which hatch in about 30 days. They can live to be 17 years or older.