British Columbia is fortunate to be home to one of the most distinctive birds in North America, the Great Blue Heron. The herons that call the coastal areas of B.C. home are unusual in that they do not migrate. Dependent on wetlands in the area for survival, the Coastal Great Blue Herons are identified as a blue-listed or vulnerable 'Species at Risk,' and need help for survival through our conservation efforts. Chilliwack is home to one of the largest heron nesting colonies in Southern British Columbia! The Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve, just off the Vedder Rotary Trail on the Vedder River dyke, boasts over 150 nests with colonies active from March through July each year.
The Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve Society manages an extensive wetland area which you are welcome to visit year-round. The 130-hectare (325 acre) site on the un-dyked floodplain of the Vedder River is known for breeding colonies of Great Blue Herons along with other wildlife and vegetation. In addition to its heron inhabitants, the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve is home to salmon spawning channels, bird blinds, and walking trails, as well as the Rotary Interpretive Centre, and an observation tower. The trails are open year-round from 8 am until dusk. The Rotary Interpretive Centre is an admission-free facility, open daily, February 1st to October 31st from 10 am to 4 pm, and November 1st to January 31st from 10 am to 3 pm. For the best view of the Heron Colony, simply follow the Rotary Trail West along the dyke road.
Great Blue Herons are the largest and most common heron across Canada. They can be found across a vast area during their breeding and post-breeding season. These herons can end up as far north as Newfoundland and the Prince William Sound in Alaska and as far south as Mexico and the West Indies. The majority of herons leave Canada for the winter, except for the subspecies that live along the west coast. The Coastal Great Blue Herons live here year round and need our help in maintaining the wetland habitat for their survival.
An adult Great Blue Heron stands over one meter tall and has a white head with a black stripe on each side running from its yellow eyes to its black plumes. Its greyish-blue breast is streaked with black. When the heron is in flight its neck doubles back and its head rests against its shoulders. During their first year of life, herons' wings are grey with flecks of brown and they display grey crowns.
A Great Blue Heron can live as long as 17 years, and as adults they have very few natural enemies. The real threat to the species is not predation, but rather the draining of marshes and the destruction of their habitat. The population of herons breeding locally is directly related to the amount of feeding habitat available. Heron eggs and young herons are preyed upon by crows, ravens, gulls, racoons and eagles. Cold weather and heavy rain at the time of hatching can also add to the high mortality rate. In Canada, the majority of female herons lay 3 to 5 eggs in the month of April. Incubation is shared by both sexes of heron: males during the day and females at night. This lasts for approximately 28 days. The eggs usually hatch when food is the most abundant in the area. If there is a lack of provisions for their growing appetites, only the strongest survive. When it comes to nesting, Great Blue Herons place their colonies in nests high up in trees in woodlands close to their feeding area, which is usually inaccessible to humans and other predators.
The Rotary Club of Chilliwack and the City of Chilliwack are major contributors to the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve. The Rotary Club donated the Rotary Interpretive Centre and the outdoor classroom. If you would like to know more about the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve and the wonderful summer camps, workshops, school programs, and free visitor programs, check out www.chilliwackblueheron.com.