The Great Blue Heron Nesting Platform Project
Many people put up birdhouses in their yards to be good stewards of the land and its wild inhabitants. In October 2008, the Nature Trust took this concept to a higher level, building 20 nesting platforms for great blue herons on the Manawagonish Island Nature Preserve, a windswept island off Saints Rest Beach in Saint John.
The need for nesting space
In the past, Manawagonish Island was home to as many as 44 pairs of great blue herons, as well as many other seabirds. Overtime, the herons and cormorants killed the trees on the island through acidic guano and physical damage. With less suitable trees to nest in, the heron colony dwindled to just a few pairs.
This project was established because the island is an ideal nesting location for these large birds due to its proximity to foraging grounds at Saint’s Rest Marsh and offshore location that limits human disturbance. Historically, herons would migrate from one nesting location to another as trees died, but with the development of wild and coastal areas, there are fewer good spots for herons to go.
Often, good stewardship means leaving places alone and letting nature take its course, but in this case, the Nature Trust felt it important to invest in this ideal location and provide some form of replacement nest structures.
The Evergreen Foundation of Toronto agreed and provided funding to execute this complicated installation. Marwood Ltd. donated five 22-foot untreated utility poles to the Nature Trust for the base of the nesting platforms, and JD Irving donated lumber and hardware for the platforms themselves.
The result of which emulates a large tree, with four triangular nest structures revolved around its ‘trunk’. The installation of 22 foot poles into the ground on an island a mile offshore was at times daunting, but through the hard work and patience of many volunteers, the platforms went up on October 15, 2008.
The poles with platforms were pre-assembled in the Irving Nature Park by Nature Trust, park staff, and volunteers. The units were lowered into hand-dug holes in the ground by helicopter. Once secured in the ground, two Saint John Energy volunteers scampered up the poles and affixed the final platform.
The result was 20 new and secure nesting surfaces for Great Blue Herons to build their stick nests.
Successes and looking forward
The structures are not intended to be a permanent solution to the loss of nesting habitat, however the project succeeded. After a visit to the island in summer 2013, the island’s land steward and board member Walter Emrich noted that 14 of the 20 platforms are being used by the great blue herons.
What’s next? In the future, it would be ideal to replant the area with white spruce, allowing trees to grow up and provide the next generation with a place to rear their young. Also, to take this project to the next level, funding would help to provide cameras (or critter cams) to monitor the birds and share live footage of their nesting activity, giving more insight into the bird’s behaviours.