nature

Heron Lady: ‘My Feathered Friends Return to Stow Lake for 28th Year’

By Nancy H. DeStefanis 

Six pairs of great blue herons are now sitting on their nests and incubating eggs in their island tree at Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake. In April, eggs will begin to hatch in the various nests and a cacophony of squawking will be heard far and wide.

“Heron Lady,” Nancy DeStefanis, at GG Park’s Stow Lake. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Nature Education. ©2021.

San Francisco Nature Education’s free program – Heron Watch – starts Saturday, April 10, and continues every Saturday through May 29, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Adult volunteers and interns will answer questions, explain the birds’ behavior and show heron artifacts to children. Signs will be up at the observation site. Visitors should wear masks and bring binoculars, if they have them. 

The heron parents will be incredibly busy for the next three months. In April, parents will feed their chicks every two hours and take turns keeping them warm at night. At 6 weeks old, chicks will be full size – four feet tall – and both parents will hunt full time to feed their growing brood. 

A close look at this photo reveals the rare sight of heron chicks beginning to emerge from their nest. Photo by Nancy DeStefanis.

Besides stabbing fresh fish from Stow Lake, the parents will be catching gophers, mice, squirrels and small birds to satisfy their young. At 10 weeks old, the chicks will begin test flights to nearby trees. At about 12 weeks (end of June), the chicks will declare their independence and leave the nests permanently.

Herons like to nest close to each other. Photo by Ian Reid.

Please bring your family and friends and join us during Heron Watch. We offer special activities for children.

April 14, 2021: Currently, there are three nests with chicks and three nests sitting on eggs. By May 15th, the six-week-old chicks will be full size – four feet tall! By mid-June, the oldest chicks will start practicing flying!

Two 10-day-old chicks in nest #7 play by dueling with their beaks like their parents. Photo by Ian Reid.
Two fuzzy chicks at parent’s feet in nest #3. Photo by Ian Reid.
Parent with two-week-old chicks in nest #6. Photo by Ian Reid.

Nancy DeStefanis is the director of San Francisco Nature Education.

For a map showing the observation area and for more information and photos, go to www.sfnature.org. Groups of eight or more, please make a reservation: info@sfnature.org.

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