90,290 volunteer hours, 73,250 active nests monitored, 33 years of the Heron and Egret Project

90,290 volunteer hours, 73,250 active nests monitored, 33 years of the Heron and Egret Project

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“It takes a community,” is a phrase so often heard in the nonprofit world, that it starts to lose its meaning. But when the task was monitoring every known heron and egret nesting attempt in five counties for over thirty years, the job literally couldn’t get done without the help of a large and dedicated community of volunteers and partners like those who were at the heart of the Heron and Egret Project.

Volunteers are critical to the success of the nest monitoring project.

Observing and learning together

The Project was started in 1991 to gather, analyze, and share data on the status of nesting herons and egrets in the Bay Area as a means to protect them and their habitats. Also significant was the goal to increase scientific literacy and connection to the natural world by engaging volunteers in making observations that contributed directly to conservation.

A map of egret and heron nesting sites historically monitored by Audubon Canyon Ranch (dark teal pins) and San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (yellow pins).

North Bay populations remain stable with a few exceptions

The North Bay, where the Heron and Egret Project was focused, is home to extensive freshwater and tidal wetlands that support around 50 active nesting sites a year. We found that over the time span of the project, the number of Great Blue Heron and Great Egret nests in this region was relatively stable, which is encouraging given the increase in human population growth and the birds’ sensitivity to human disturbance. However, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Snowy Egret trends were less clear, with declines suggesting that further study and conservation efforts may be needed to protect these species.

Black-crowned Night-Herons have seen some decline in nest abundance over the course of the study.

Project continues under management of San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory

In this time of ever-increasing conservation challenges, it has never been more important to engage in new partnerships and strengthen existing ones. In that spirit, we invited our long-time collaborator, the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO) to lead the project beginning with the 2024 nesting season. SFBBO, with their long history of monitoring colonial waterbirds in the South Bay, was well suited to take the helm. While it was a difficult decision to let go of managing a project that was so deeply connected to Audubon Canyon Ranch’s lands and history, this change was both strategic and energizing. The impact of the Heron and Egret Project will continue, with the added benefit of all San Francisco Bay Area heronry monitoring now under one organizational roof. Many Audubon Canyon Ranch volunteers and staff continue to make observations under the direction of SFBBO.

Added capacity to support regional conservation goals

Most importantly, a new home for the project frees up our capacity to meet new challenges, including the Science for Stewardship goals defined in our strategic plan — supporting resilient ecosystems while deepening our relationship to the lands we steward.

Click on the image to explore the interactive map and some analysis of the five egret species tracked in the Heron and Egret Project

Get Involved

Beginning in early February and continuing through early August, SFBBO tracks numbers of breeding herons, egrets, terns, gulls and other birds that nest in colonies around the Bay Area. Learn more about volunteering for the project >