Great Blue Herons are fascinating birds that can live up to 20 years. These majestic animals need human help to ensure their habitat in Kiwanis Ravine and other urban areas is protected and properly managed. In addition to the colony in Kiwanis Ravine, Seattle is home to heron colonies in the North Beach neighborhood, the West Marginal Way Greenbelt, Matthews Beach, and the University of Washington campus. Washington also hosts heron colonies in the Black River Riparian Forest of Renton and on Samish Island near Bow, at the mouth of the Skagit River valley. Herons hunt for fish at the Locks near Kiwanis Ravine and along Puget Sound and Lake Washington shorelines. Year after year, the herons return to their nests in February and spend several weeks in courtship to select a mate for the season. The female typically lays three to five eggs, which both parents alternate incubating for about 28 days. Heron chicks typically fledge in two months, usually in June or July. However, young from late nests may not fledge until late summer. During an undisturbed season, two to four chicks typically fledge per nest.
Until 2013, the majority of herons at Kiwanis Ravine nested in maple and alder trees on the west side of the ravine. That year, due to eagle predation, the herons moved mid-season to Commodore Park, where 6 nests already existed. Herons built approximately 55 nests, and continue to nest there each season. Although herons can be very sensitive to noise disturbance, the herons that nest in Commodore Park have chosen a much more exposed nesting area and seem oblivious to people passing by or the numerous boats traveling through the Ballard Locks or the trains crossing the railway bridge.
The heron which those at HHH work so hard to protect is an iconic bird, embodying a curious set of contradictions. Its gangling body seems like a feathery bag of ungainly limbs – yet it fishes with a dexterity, precision and streamlined grace that belies its scruffy appearance. The dangle-legged flight of the heron has an almost comedic awkwardness – yet the still, stoic concentration and swift, skilled strikes of the heron when fishing gives precisely the opposite impression.
It is perhaps little wonder that this unique creature has so captured the human imagination over the centuries. Few birds have acquired such a wealth of symbolic significance and folkloric belief. It was believed, for example, that great blue herons and their closely-related old-world counterparts, grey herons, would nibble at the feathers of their breasts when fishing. This, people thought, would produce a luminous powder which the birds sprinkled upon darkened waters to illuminate their prey. In fact, the heron does have powder deposits upon it breast, but it uses these to clean and condition its feathers rather than to light up startled fish. So willing, however, were people to believe strange and wonderful things of this enigmatic bird that the belief persisted right up until the twentieth century, with even reputable naturalists reporting upon it.