News & Features

Pennsylvania Game Commission Conducts Heron Colony Survey

Great Blue Heron feeding young in nest, by Jake Dingel, PGC

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is responsible for protecting heron populations and tracking their distribution in the state. For 2017 we are conducting a comprehensive survey of heron colonies. The goal is to count all the nests of each species, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-herons, at each site creating a “snapshot” of the distribution of nesting herons statewide. The Great Egret and the two night-heron species are considered Pennsylvania Endangered.

If you know where herons are nesting, we’d appreciate hearing from you. Please do not assume that someone else will report local nests.

With such widely distributed species and limited resources, we rely on the help of volunteers like you to improve our understanding of their distribution and numbers. Even though many heron colonies are documented across the Commonwealth, you may know about colonies that we don’t. Heron colonies can be occupied for several years, but they are sometimes abandoned and new colonies appear elsewhere. We may not know about these newer colonies.  Your contributions are critical to improving our information and developing the most complete picture possible of the current status of Pennsylvania’s heron populations. The information will be used to update the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program database and provide protection for colonies.

A Great Blue Heron Perched by Jake Dingel

As much as we want all the nests counted, the birds come first. Their nests should be monitored with binoculars or a scope from a safe distance. Please do not approach nests or alarm the nesting birds.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at nest by Joe Kosack, PGC

To get started please visit the agency’s heron survey web page: http://www.pgc.pa.gov/InformationResources/GetInvolved/Pages/HeronColonyObservationSurvey.aspxBy following the protocol you’ll ensure your fieldwork will help science and not disrupt nesting herons. Submit your completed survey forms to: heron@pa.gov<mailto:heron@pa.gov>.

Great Blue Heron feeding young in nest, by Jake Dingel, PGC

For more information about the heron species that are listed as Endangered please visit the agency’s wildlife pages on its website: http://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/EndangeredandThreatened/Pages/default.aspx

Young Black-crowned Night-Heron, PA Endangered, by Joe Kosack

This survey is an ideal way to demonstrate that you value herons specifically and wildlife in general. It is another way for us to connect with wildlife and good wildlife habitat.

Great Egrets, PA Endangered, at nest, by Joe Kosack

You are also encouraged to enter your heron observations in eBird. Herons often forage far from their colonies and in locations where there is plentiful food.  As such, they often serve as indicators of good water quality that we all enjoy.

Great Blue Heron colony in sycamore tree, by Jake Dingel, PGC

Patricia Barber, Endangered Species Biologist, Pennsylvania Game Commission

and Doug Gross, Endangered and Nongame Bird Section Supervisor, PA eBird