Over a decade ago, trees were planted in downtown Roseburg as part of a beautification project. Since then, the trees have become nesting habitats for birds, including green herons.
“It is wonderful that the city has habitat for wildlife to live and nest right downtown,” Lauren Guicheteau said. She and her partner Charlie Allen helped locate nests during the Umpqua Valley Audubon Society citizens science event the evening of May 11.
A group of Douglas County residents met at O’Toole’s Pub and split up into small teams to search the area’s branches for nests. Guicheteau’s group found one nest that was occupied by an adult heron and several eggs in a tree on Jackson Street near the Mariachi Loco restaurant. Two other nests were spotted, but it couldn’t be confirmed whether they were being used or not.
“Planting trees, even in what is otherwise kind of a whole lot of concrete and buildings, created habitat for a spectacular bird,” said Diana Wales, president of the Umpqua Valley Audubon Society. “It’s positive and important in an urban setting to have natural habitat.”
Mark Hamm, who organized the citizens science event, walked up to the third floor of the building next to a nesting tree, where a fitness class was being held at Kcd Dance Studio. The dancers had been watching the nest too, and invited Hamm to see the bird and eggs from their window.
Since then, the dancers have spotted bits of egg shells on the pavement and little fluffy chicks huddled in the nest.
Chris Russell, who is involved in the dance studio, said he first noticed the green heron nest a year ago and has been monitoring it since.
“Of course everybody in the gym was excited,” he said. “It became a daily thing to check on the status of the birds and see how big they were getting.”
Wales said another way to tell if the nests are occupied is by looking down at the sidewalk instead of up through the leaves. Once the chicks hatch, a plethora of white droppings can be found underneath the tree.
Hamm first heard the green herons had come to Jackson Street a few years ago. Once, when he was at a stop sign on the way to a meeting, he saw an adult green heron whoosh across traffic heading to a nearby creek.
“It’s so incredible to see them fly by,” Hamm said, adding green herons are very smart birds. “They take pieces of bread, drop them on the water and use them as bait to catch fish.”
Lance Colley, Roseburg city manager who enjoys birding in his free time, has seen the green herons traveling up and down Jackson Street for the last three years.
“I have also seen more and more green herons around the duck pond and South Umpqua River in Stewart Park over the same period,” Colley said. “The birds are considered uncommon but seem to have found this area to be good habitat and are becoming more common here.”
A couple years ago, during a construction project for Oak and Washington avenues, the city planned to remove and replace a number of trees in the area.
When Hamm saw a ribbon had been placed around a nesting tree on Oak Avenue, he assumed the city was protecting the tree and letting people know a heron was nesting there. While he was driving by a few days later, he noticed the tree had been cut down for the construction project. He and fellow Audubon members brought it to the attention of Colley and Parks and Recreation Program Manager Barbara Taylor.
Neither of them had known the tree had housed a nest, and they got to work to protect the rest.
“We then surveyed all of the remaining trees in the project to make sure that there were no further active nests that would be impacted,” Colley said. “There were no additional nests in the trees scheduled for removal, and the project proceeded. A number of additional nests continue to be active in downtown.”
Wales said it was very sad when the nesting tree was cut down, but something positive came out of it. Now the city was involved and more people were becoming aware of the birds. She added it’s an important lesson, especially for conservationists like her, to not get angry in such situations but to get creative.
Hamm worked with Colley to put up posters in the area kiosks to help people identify the herons and know they belong there when they see the birds walking down the street, peering in store windows.
“I just think it is fun to have wildlife adapting and thriving in urban settings so that people who enjoy wildlife know that they are around in the spring,” Colley said.
Along with the trees downtown and the Stewart Park duck pond, urban habitats in Roseburg include the poles at Gaddis Park that house a nesting pair of osprey and the Clay Place Chimney near the Umpqua Valley Arts Center, where people can see hundreds of Vaux’s swifts swirl in the air every spring and fall.