Oakland herons released at MLK Shoreline

By Ilana DeBare
Our three-way heron rescue partnership with International Bird Rescue and Oakland Zoo paid inspiring dividends again on Friday, when 19 young herons and egrets were released into thriving marsh habitat at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline.
There is hardly anything more uplifting than witnessing the release of wild birds that had been threatened with death, rescued, and nursed back to health. Watching them stick a tentative bill out of the door of their carrying case… take a step or two… then raise their wings and burst into flight… finally settling into the muddy water to start foraging for food….
The scene was made even more meaningful by the knowledge that this marsh had been saved from development by a Golden Gate Bird Alliance lawsuit in the 1980s. Thanks to advocacy by GGBA and our allies, it is now home to endangered species like Ridgway’s Rails and a welcoming site for this new batch of rescued birds. GGBA volunteers and Eco-Ed students do habitat restoration there on an ongoing basis.

Bird Rescue staff JD Bergeron and Cheryl Reynolds bring one of three carrying cases with herons and egrets. / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Snowy Egrets ready for release / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Heron rescue volunteers including Linda Vallee get the honor of releasing the birds / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Night-herons venture out of their carrying case. / Photo by Ilana DeBare

“We are so fortunate to have the world-class expertise of International Bird Rescue here in our backyard,” said Cindy Margulis, Executive Director of Golden Gate Bird Alliance. “Thanks to Bird Rescue’s skilled and dedicated care, these birds now have a chance to be wild, healthy birds.”
Golden Gate Bird Alliance organized the three-way rescue partnership in 2016 to save the lives of young birds in Oakland, where more than 150 Snowy Egret and Black-crowned Night-Heron nests occupy thick-canopied ficus trees over busy streets in the city’s urban core. Young birds that had not yet fledged often fell from the trees, breaking bones on the concrete sidewalk or wandering into deadly traffic.
Both in 2016 and this spring, GGBA volunteers monitored the area for fallen birds. Oakland Zoo collected the injured birds and offered immediate veterinary care. Then Bird Rescue provided long-term rehabilitation at their renowned S.F. Bay-Delta Wildlife Center in Fairfield.
In total, 63 Oakland herons and egrets received care during this year’s nesting season.
Releasing a young Snowy Egret / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Snowy Egret flies free! / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Released egrets accustom themselves to the marsh / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Friday’s release included three Black-crowned Night-Herons from the Oakland rookery. One of those was a bird whose leg was broken in June when the trunk of one of the nest trees suddenly split. In addition, the release included five night-herons and 11 Snowy Egrets from other spots around the Bay Area.
Raising such a large number of herons and egrets was a financial and logistical challenge for Bird Rescue — but one they undertook enthusiastically. A Golden Gate Bird Alliance Birdathon trip to Bird Rescue in April gave participants an opportunity to see some of the rescued Oakland herons in care.
“Baby herons and egrets are among our neediest patients,” said JD Bergeron, Executive Director of Bird Rescue. “They eat expensive feeder fish and require a variety of cages and specialized care over the course of six or seven weeks. At a cost of $18 per day for a healthy baby, and twice that for an injured one, this can really add up! We wholeheartedly welcome the support of members of the public to be able to properly care for these chicks: www.bird-rescue.org/get-involved/donate.”
Released night-heron before it takes flight. Young night-herons are brown; the adults take on their distinctive black and white plumage. / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Released night-heron takes off across the marsh / Photo by Sharon Beals

Released young night-heron / Photo by Sharon Beals.

Released night-herons find a comfy roost in a nearby tree / Photo by Sharon Beals

As this nesting heron season reaches its close, Golden Gate Bird Alliance is working with Oakland city officials to develop a long-range solution for the downtown heron rookery that will provide a safer place for the birds to raise their young.
View media coverage of Friday’s heron release:

You can help provide healthy habitat for Oakland herons and other birds! Join one of our monthly habitat restoration events. All ages welcome, no experience necessary. Our habitat restoration at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, where the Oakland herons were released, takes place on the third Saturday morning of each month. For details on that and our other habitat work sites on both sides of the Bay, see the Volunteer page of our web site.