Herons swoop on downtown Oakland


The world is in upheaval. Dictators and governments are rising and falling, protest movements are changing national dialogue, big companies are screwing up very publicly and elections are getting crazier than ever.

On a planetary scale, the lives of animals are changing, too. Take, for example, the black-crowned night heron. The steely blue birds that for years nested at the Lake Merritt bird sanctuary have recently taken wing to a less hospitable locale: downtown Oakland.

The herons swoop in by the dozens, with more arriving daily. From their perches they noisily molest passers-by with their incessant squawking.

Some describe the sound as loud and irritating. Greg Meagher, a Berkeley resident who works at the Alameda County courthouse, told the Chron he encounters the birds regularly:

“They sound like someone scraping a washboard.”

He added:

“I was just astonished when I first saw them. They’re strikingly beautiful.”

What isn’t clear yet is why they’re migrating. Some believe they’re being pushed out by a rival bird species, while others think they just like the ficus trees that downtown Oakland boasts.

The problems, though, are noticeable. The bird poop is a hazard to everything, from car paint jobs to business owners and people who are likely to slip and fall in the great slicks of bird excrement.

There’s a problem for the birds’ offspring, too. Because night herons tend to build shoddy nests, if their eggs or chicks fall onto concrete, it’s a certain death sentence.

What remains to be seen is how Oakland and the herons will get along over the long term. Actually, residents could  take a lesson from the 2-foot-tall birds. They’re a welcoming species, willing to care for whatever chicks show up in their nest, regardless of whether they’re blood or not.

Maybe not just Oakland could stand to learn from the birds. Hell, I think we all could.

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