Nature Essays

Identifying The Birds Of Stanley Park

Stanley Park, on the western edge of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, is a 1000 acre (400 hectare) retreat for locals, tourists and numerous birds. It is my favorite birding spot and passersby often ask me to identify the birds I am photographing.

One of the more spectacular species I’ve been asked about is the great blue heron (Ardea herodias). Herons are wading birds that prefer this park on a peninsula for its ready access to shoreline and freshwater ponds.

Stanley Park’s herons are typically seen in one of two places: either perched high in a tree or standing quietly near the water’s edge. I have seen many spring time park visitors startled as they come across a 1 metre (over 3 feet) tall heron quietly observing the muddy shoreline of Lost Lagoon in the quest for a snack. Armed with a sturdy, sharp beak, these birds tolerate slow and quiet close approaches by photographers and bird watchers, but not too close!

When not wading for food, Stanley Park’s herons tend to their large heronry located in a stand of trees between the park’s tennis courts and the Vancouver Parks Board’s main office building. Over fifty nests make for some interesting noises and smells on a warm spring evening, prompting many passersby to scurry down the soiled paths linking adjacent parking lots beneath this treed area. I can only guess what the herons think of tennis!

Herons are considered a species at risk, mainly due to the wetland destruction associated with urban development. The Vancouver Parks Board takes special care to disturb these birds as little as possible, even to the point of recently refusing to remove rotting heron corpses directly above the tennis courts for fear of driving away the whole colony.