A great blue heron takes flight at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta, B.C. (Boaz Joseph photo)

Falling tree leads to death of over a dozen young herons in Tsawwassen

Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. says soil instability caused by deforestation is to blame

Over a dozen great blue heron fledglings died in Tsawwassen this week after a tree containing several nests fell, taking other nest-bearing trees with it.

According to a press release from the Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C., the group received a call from a frantic man who witnessed a large tree with three visible great blue heron nests falling in a rookery on Tsawwassen First Nation land. The tree impacted several neighbouring trees on the way down, causing deadly damage to many occupied nests.

Staff from the association’s Wildlife Support Centre contacted the TFN’s resource co-ordinator, offering to send a response team to assist with the rescue of injured herons. Rescue volunteers the resource co-ordinator joined up at the rookery shortly after and found over a dozen fledglings dead plus six more in critical condition

“These babies were unable to make the jump or take flight when the trees fell. There were a couple of fledglings who were probably already on the ground that were healthy, in good condition, and able to make their way to safety,” the association said in its release.

The six living fledglings were rushed to the association’s wildlife hospital, where they received a thorough examination that found numerous serious injuries, including severe pelvic fractures, wrist fractures, destroyed vision, the inability to walk or stand, central nervous system trauma and severely low blood markers.

Only two of the six fledglings ultimately survived, and they remain are under hospital care in the hope that they can one day return to the wild.

Great blue herons typically reside in habitats with access to salt or freshwater and grasslands and breed from February to May in groups called colonies. Males will make nests of sticks in trees high off the ground to attract a mate, and the females will then pad the nests with softer materials such as moss and grass before laying two to six light blue eggs.

The association said this week’s incident was caused by deforestation in the area, noting the soil was unstable due to trees currently being cut down at the top of the hill.

“While great blue herons are protected by the Migratory Bird Act, they still face many threats. The young herons saved by Wildlife Rescue in this tragedy are just a small example of this,” the association said, adding deforestation in the province has led to fewer nesting spots for all species.

“The tree that toppled over recently had weak roots due to recent deforestation. By chopping down trees the soil is disrupted, leading to unbalanced trees.”

The association said nesting colonies are often destroyed by humans logging, driving motorboats, or other interruptions, allowing predators an opportunity to grab their eggs. As well, pollutants such as chemicals can not only poison what herons eat but contaminate the birds’ bodies as they wade through water to find food.

“Keeping healthy trees in place is an excellent way to guarantee that herons have enough nesting spots,” the association said.

“The recent events in Tsawwassen are grave, and there is still much we can do to make sure these incredible birds stay safe. By leaving trees, avoiding nests and using environmentally friendly products, great blue herons will be a little bit safer.”

Anyone who finds that is injured in distress is urged to call the Wildlife Rescue Association’s hotline at 604-526-7275. The line is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week.

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