A Pond is a Pond: Herons at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of May 13-19, 2017)

Last week, our group of bird walkers startled up a green heron on the east campus Teaberry pond. It flew into a nearby tree.  A few days later I saw a pair of them there, so maybe we have a heron family.

Our herons have flown here from perhaps as far south as Panama.  They  like small freshwater ponds surrounding by trees where they can nest.  Our Teaberry pond is a human-made retention basin that receives run-off from our streets and roofs, and holds it before sending it through a pipe into the adjacent wetland. The pond has a rubber liner, but there must be quite a layer of mud on the bottom because the pond is full of native cattails, and we see lots of frogs, toads, snakes, insects, and salamanders there–good food for herons, who stand motionless along the banks or on fallen logs and pounce on their prey.

Green herons are among only twelve species of birds known to use some type of bait, such as a feather, small twig, or insect,  dropped onto the water to attract fish.  See an amusing video of a green heron using a piece of bread as bait:  http://goodnature.nathab.com/video-a-green-heron-fishes-with-bread-bait/

Our pair will build a stick nest in a nearby tree or shrub.  Dad begins the nest, and then is relegated to materials delivery, as mom finishes construction.  Then she lays 3-5 eggs.  Both parents feed the young by regurgitation–the bird version of blender baby food, continuing to do so for a few weeks even after the young have fledged. Not so easy for a little one to learn what amounts to bait and spear fishing.

I worry about that pond.  It must be quite polluted from our roof and road water.  Today as I write this, our landscaper is spreading fertilizer coated with an herbicide onto our lawns, including the mowed lawn that slopes down to the Teaberry pond. I wouldn’t let my child swim in there.  Herons are smart enough to bait fish, but not smart enough to read the little yellow flag warnings about herbicide applications.  Anything we can do at Lathrop to reduce our use of chemicals helps these illiterate but smart and beautiful birds who think a pond is a pond.

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