Arco Blue Heron Nesting Colony

180 acres, established Great Blue Heron rookery
Location: Birch Bay

Great Blue Heron Nesting Colony

Great Blue Heron Nesting Colony

When development threatened the Birch Bay Great Blue heron colony, WLT brought together a powerful partnership to protect the nesting site of these majestic birds. Whatcom County, British Petroleum and the State Department of Ecology joined WLT to make sure that the herons continue to have a secure, undisturbed place to call home in Whatcom County. The Birch Bay colony is one of the largest on the West Coast with over 300 nesting pairs.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Initially, this site consisted of a 77-acre conservation easement donated by the BP Cherry Point Refinery (formerly known as the ARCO Cherry Point Refinery). Three years later, an additional 103 acres was donated by BP. A neighboring property was then identified as a potential residential development site. Biologist Ann Eissinger feared that close human neighbors would cause the colony to disperse. With the generous assistance of a local real estate agent (thank you Jeri Smith!) a plan to purchase this acreage was negotiated. With financial donations from (again!) BP, WLT was able to successfully appeal to Whatcom County Executive, Pete Kremen for use of $150,000 from the county’s Conservation Futures Fund.  This left us still $49,000 short of the purchase price and off to the state Department of Ecology we went.  Today, 180 acres are forever protected from residential and commercial/industrial development creating an ample privacy buffer between heron and human families.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

While every acre conserved is a prize, WLT is especially pleased when success is rooted in public and private entities collaborating to ensure that the county’s natural assets will still be here for our children’s children.

From Seattle Audubon’s BirdWeb:

Great Blue Herons usually breed in colonies containing a few to several hundred pairs. Isolated pair-breeding is rare. Nest building begins in February when a male chooses a nesting territory and displays to attract a female. The nest is usually situated high up in a tree. The male gathers sticks for the female who fashions them into a platform nest lined with small twigs, bark strips, and conifer needles. Both parents incubate the 3-5 eggs for 25-29 days. Both parents regurgitate food for the young. The young can first fly at about 60 days old, although they continue to return to the nest and are fed by the adults for another few weeks. Pair bonds only last for the nesting season, and adults form new bonds each year.

Great Blue Herons are easily disturbed by human activity, as many Whatcom County residents have experienced first-hand. The sudden flight and protesting squawk of this flinchy bird are familiar to just about anyone who wanders outdoors near slow-moving waters.

Photo 2 by Alan Fritzberg, photo 3 by Natalie Whitman