Young heron nesting in Plaza tree
THE PLAZA HERON fledgling roosts comfortably at the top of a cluster of bushes.
Sonoma's Plaza is noted for ducks (and, at one time, notoriously for chickens) but most people don't consider it a haven for more exotic birds. Which is why many Sonomans were surprised this week - as were several out-of-town visitors - to see a fledgling green heron wandering around the Plaza lawn and climbing periodically into a sculpted cluster of bushes at the northwest corner of the square.
A second fledgling heron, spotted earlier in the same area, was later found dead among the branches of the bush cluster. It appeared to have died from natural causes.
Tom Rusert, co-founder of Sonoma Birding, has long campaigned for a better public understanding of the Plaza as wildlife habitat, especially for birds.
And he has helped educate the city's public works employees about the need to avoid trimming trees during nesting season. But even Rusert was somewhat surprised to encounter the young heron, which did an end-run around its home bush, darted out to the Napa Street sidewalk and stepped into the gutter while Rusert was scanning the foliage.
Herding the bird back away from danger, Rusert noted that the fledge appeared to be healthy and capable of caring for itself, although it still wasn't capable of flight.
Rusert said green herons typically can't fend for themselves until they're about 30-days-old. When grown, they feed on fish, frogs and other aquatic species and usually nest near water.
No heron parents were in evidence, but Rusert said they may have chosen the Plaza as a nesting site because of the presence of the duck pond. Herons have been known to nest along Nathanson Creek and Sonoma Creek, Rusert said. And two years ago, Index-Tribune employees found green heron fledges wandering around the I-T parking lot after bailing out of an adjacent tree.
Rusert explained that concerned and well-intentioned observers who spot the young heron on the Plaza should simply leave the bird alone.
It will shortly learn to fly and can then fend for itself. Trying to capture and transport it away from the Plaza will only put it at risk. But groundskeepers should be cautious about mowing, he warned, until the young heron takes its leave.