Green Heron support team. Photo by City of Folsom
By Gillian Martin
Pick a champion, any one! At least half a dozen stand out in a bird crisis-aversion action that was undertaken this week in the town of Folsom, north-east of Sacramento, CA. In previous years, Green Herons nested in an unsuitable tree overhanging a public right of way. The price had been heavy. Each year fatalities occurred when their young fell onto the busy roadway below. This time the community rallied to prevent a recurrence. Barbara Leary, wildlife photographer, and Chair of the Sacramento Sierra Club, and Dave Nugen, Public Works Director, along with Steve Krahn, City Engineer, came up with a plan. But that’s not all. They turned to others for help.
The city’s tree care contractor, West Coast Arborists, received a call. Certified Arborist, Brian Kirkegaard, agreed to install a fabric sling of sorts under the nest. The idea was that if a nestling fell before it was mature enough to leave the nest, the sling would prevent the bird from falling to the street. A bucket lift-truck, two large burlap sacks, and zip ties would be used for the job. Brian came prepared to do it as safely as possible, but also to be ready for the unexpected.
After closing off an appropriate portion of the roadway, and before rising into the tree, he positioned a foam mattress on the ground where the birds would likely fall if things went wrong. His wildlife awareness training came to mind: Give the birds time to get used to you from a distance. Be as quiet as possible. Move toward the nest slowly. Keep an eye for protective parents who might pose a risk to your safety. Work as quickly as you can so as to avoid keeping parents from feeding their young. While Brian was reviewing his plan, Barbara had taken another proactive step.
She requested members of the Sacramento Heron and Egret Rescue (SHER) to be on site to provide guidance and, if necessary, rescue any nestlings that might bolt from the nest if Brian got too close for their comfort. Two came with nets in hand: Christy Berger and a SHER volunteer. Other responders included a volunteer for Gold Country Wildlife Rescue, and a city staff member, Josh Johnsrud. Josh came to oversee the project. All investigative eyes agreed that the parents were absent from the nest, but likely observing from afar. Brian was given the thumbs up to proceed. The job took about an hour. To everyone’s delight the three heron youngsters showed no distress, only curiosity at Brian’s presence just below them. Not long after, Barbara was relieved to see that a parent had returned to guard the nest.
Brian Kirkegaard of West Coast Arborists installs sling.
Pick a favorite champion if you must. It’s a win-win for everyone! We recognize that this intervention would have been a source of pride for Folsom city staff and wildlife advocates at any time; but a demonstration of community cooperation for the sake of birds during the Covid 19 crisis brought delight to people everywhere who are eager to witness goodness in any form.