The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Birdzilla, in the Conservatory, with the Beak

by Tricia Dower

In March I wrote about the herons’ return to Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park. Since then Colin and I have popped over from time to time to catch a glimpse of the birds on their nests or flying in and out of the trees like resurrected pterodactyls. On Victoria Day, the heronry was eerily quiet, deserted except for an eagle triumphantly reigning on an abandoned nest. On the ground beneath her: bits of egg shells.

We were at the scene of a crime.

The Victoria Times-Colonist two days later reported that a female eagle nicknamed Birdzilla bullied more than a hundred herons away from their nests and ate an estimated thirty-nine chicks and 187 eggs in a rampage that could mean the end of this rare urban nesting ground.

“Pfft,” said the woman who cuts my hair. “They should be more responsible about what they report.” She lived across from Beacon Hill Park for three years and said there’s no way one eagle could eat that many chicks and eggs. In her opinion Birdzilla was getting a bum rap. She fingered the raccoons.

But do raccoons eat herons? Would they really climb all the way to the top of a Douglas fir? I did some research. The bandit-eyed critters are not bothered by heights of thirty-five to forty feet, I learned, and, yes, they eat heron eggs as well as chicks. Other predators are crows and ravens. They swoop in and spear unguarded eggs after an eagle chases the adult herons away. So did a dastardly gang plan and execute this massacre?

I also learned that, while eagles prefer fish, they will eat ducks, coots, muskrats, turtles, rabbits, snakes, herons, of course, and whatever else is handy, including carrion. And here's a damning piece of evidence: they've been filmed eating goose eggs. Birdzilla is reputed to be elderly (Gray feathers? How does one tell?), and herons have been known to abandon a heronry once an eagle kills even one of their number. So, if I’m an elderly eagle who’s got just enough scare left in me to chase away all the adult herons, why wouldn’t I hang around for the easy pickings? Let the younger eagles go diving for salmon and risk drowning while holding on to a big one.

The salient facts and the memory of Prime Suspect’s defiant presence at the scene was enough for this detective. Book ‘er, Danno.

Photo of Birdzilla by volunteer heron watcher, Rhiannon Hamdi, from the window of her apartment facing the heronry.


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

It's a bird eat bird world out there! Is there a plan to help the herons?

Sat Jun 02, 11:33:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hi Andrew. The only plan I've heard of is to create an osprey nesting area nearby, as ospreys will chase eagles away. However, it may be too late. The herons may not return to Beacon Hill Park next year.

Sat Jun 02, 11:43:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

That's too bad; perhaps they'll head for Swann Lake...

Mon Jun 04, 01:42:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Larry said...

Just last week I spotted a Great Blue Heron in one of our preserved coastal wetlands, and I wondered what it was doing down here when the rest of the crew are up in Victoria.

Little did I know that Birdzilla was rampaging.

Mon Jun 04, 03:25:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

If you see another, one, Larry, wave for me. Friends who live across from the park said they also saw two younger male eagles flying around the heronry, so Birdzilla probably had help.

Mon Jun 04, 07:29:00 pm GMT-4  

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