We all know what a great blue heron looks like, what it does for a living and where it lives – so I won’t rehash that here. Looking like a graceful and meditative tai chi expert, these elegant birds often walk shorelines or docks searching for small fish. They are a study of refinement and polish, long delicate throat feathers allow water to drain off the bird without creating splash circles that might scare a possible meal. The official bird for Seattle, herons nest in treetop stick structures mostly in cottonwoods. Far above ground predators, in the past decade, a new threat is now creating havoc with Salish Sea herons – bald eagles.
Back from endangered status and the threat of DDT, bald eagles have become almost common here, and other birds are now dealing with the big bully in the neighborhood. Gulls that used to nest on small offshore islands are now using city roofs to escape marauding eagles. Great blue herons too, with eagles invading heron colonies where they chase off the adults, then land and help themselves to the eggs or young. It’s difficult for any admirer of wildlife to deal with this, because both birds have their place here, both are beautiful, both health-indicators at the top of an ecosystem we’d like to think of as healthy. But it’s obviously not! Eagles may be doing this because there are fewer fish, fewer waterfowl they once relied on. How eagles and herons eventually coexist no one knows, but at the moment, it’s going in the eagle’s favor.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.