Herons In San Francisco

Academy interns are studying a pair of nesting great blue herons and providing the public with a rare view into the daily activities of these magnificent birds.

A walk along Golden Gate Park's Stow Lake in San Francisco is always good for wildlife spotting: mallards, pied-billed grebes, American coots, and pond turtles can be seen enjoying the water alongside the occasional paddleboat. But now, thanks to Nancy DeStefanis and her Heron Explainers Project, a visit to the lake has become an educational experience. A pair of herons has settled high in a Monterey cypress on an island only 100 yards off the west edge of the lake, providing an unusually close look at their behavior. The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is four feet tall and has a six foot wing span. Seeing one fly overhead is a thrilling experience. DeStefanis is teaching students in the Academy's intern program about the birds' nesting habits. Interns learn not only about the birds but also how to present what they've learned to the public. They also record observations of the herons' activities, which may be used in future studies.

Nancy DeStafanis helps a student
Nancy DeStafanis helps a student participant view the young herons.
Photo: Stow Lake Education Project

The Heron Explainers Project is sponsored by the Golden Gate Audubon Society and the California Academy of Sciences. Teens interested in becoming an explainer should contact DeStefanis at myblueherons@yahoo.com

Academy interns explain heron behavior
Academy interns, Flor Vargas and Dominic (in blue shirts), explain heron behavior to interested Stow Lake visitors.

Great Blue Heron in nest at Stow Lake
Great Blue Heron in nest at Stow Lake.
Photo: Tom Henry

Over the next two months, interns will explain to visitors at the site the birds' behaviors, such as why the parent birds present twigs to one another; what they are hunting over the lake, and stalking in the park. Guests can use spotting scopes for unobstructed close-ups of the birds.

DeStefanis, a naturalist for the Stow Lake Education Project and the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, discovered the first pair of nesting great blue herons in San Francisco history in 1993.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Photo: CAS Special Collections/Corsi


map:  great blue heron nests in golden gate park