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Gauge Height: 4.92'
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Posted In: Birding, James River

Eagles and herons living together in RVA?

February 12, 2014 12:14pm

A tip of the cap to the Friends of the James River Park for highlighting this really interesting piece on William and Mary’s website. In the article, author Lillian Stevens talks to biologist Bryan Watts of VCU and William and Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology mostly about great blue herons.

Herons work on their nests at the downtown rookery on Feb. 10. Credit: Chris Johnson

Herons work on their nests at the downtown rookery on Feb. 10. Credit: Chris Johnson

In May and June, [Watts] logged 200 hours in the air conducting a census survey spanning 900 tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay region (which includes the James River to downtown Richmond).

The CCB census revealed that great blue herons in the Bay region have climbed from just a dozen colonies in the late 1960s to 407 colonies (14,126 pairs) in 2013. In the 1980s the average colony size of great blues was over 100; now it’s about 35. So, over the past decade or so, even as the population itself has made a dramatic comeback, the size of breeding colonies of great blue herons in the region has been diminishing.

Pictures taken by Watts, Stevens writes, also revealed something interesting: Great blues and bald eagles nesting in the same trees.

“We refer to blue herons as colonial water birds because they tend to nest together in distinct colonies,” says Bryan Watts, CCB director. “Like eagles, great blues build their own nests.”

Sometimes a great blue heron colony forms around an eagle nest, and sometimes an eagle moves into a great blue colony. According to Watts, no one really knows why.

There are dozens of nests at the downtown rookery. Credit: Chris Johnson

There are dozens of nests at the downtown rookery. Credit: Chris Johnson

Watts goes into more depth and offers a few theories. Click here to read more.

Here in Richmond we’ve got nesting herons and bald eagles. This time of year they’re both building their nests in preparation for mating and raising young. Next time you’re downtown, head to the Pipeline and check out the huge heron rookery on the nearby island. If you see any eagles nesting among the herons, let us know…and don’t forget to snap a picture!


About Andy Thompson

I was the Outdoors Columnist at the Times-Dispatch from 2007 to 2013, writing twice a week about mountain biking, fishing, hunting, paddling and much more. I live a 1/4 mile from the James River, close enough to see bald eagles soaring over my house on their way to find a meal. Pretty cool, eh?