The Herons Are Alright

  • A Great Blue Heron from the rookery in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Akron, Ohio. Photo: Cheryl Osgood

May 8, 2015

In Northeast Ohio, a rookery of Great Blue Herons is thriving. The birds make their homes along a roadside on the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, in Akron, Ohio, where photographers and nature lovers pull over to admire them. As of April, dozens of the birds were nesting there.

Meg Plona is a biologist with the National Park Service in Ohio, which monitors the herons. According to her data, the number of herons has nearly tripled here since they first started nesting in these trees in the early 1990s.

“It’s sort of a sentinel species when you see Great Blue Herons. They need clean water, they need fish to feed on, they need amphibians,” Plona says, “So it’s always a nice sign that the habitat’s doing well.”

Plona says the heron’s success is evidence that efforts to clean up the nearby Cuyahoga River over the past 45 years have made a positive difference for wildlife.

At the rookery, a large, prehistoric looking bird flies out, with its broad wings and long curved neck, collecting what looks like a long piece of straw, then it clumsily returns to the nest. This bird is just one of the many Andrea Irland admires. Irland, who also works with the National Park Service in Ohio, has made personal connections with the birds. Online, she made them a Facebook page.

But Irland wasn’t laughing a couple years ago when one of their nesting trees toppled over, “A devastating loss” she says.  She was worried because the herons build large nests, but when they came back the following spring, they just nested in different trees nearby.

Before the spring leaves were out, the herons and their nests were easy to spot. Now, as the trees green up in early May, and the chicks are beginning to hatch—and birdwatchers may need to take a little more time to find them.

“They’re big nests, they’re big birds,” Irland says. “You’re not trying to find a little warbler. You can see these birds and that’s what makes it exciting. It’s kind of a gateway bird for bird nerds.”