North Mississippi Regional Park Heron Rookery
On May 22, 2011 a tornado struck north Minneapolis. That same tornado struck North Mississippi Regional Park, damaging an island that was home to a rookery of roughly 200 Great Blue Heron nests.
Most of the adult Great Blue Herons flew away when they saw the tornado approaching. Relatively few dead and injured adults were found on the island and along the shores of the Mississippi River; however, every single chick was blown out of the nests. The hundreds of surviving adult herons circled the island that was now covered in twisted and shredded trees searching for nests that no longer existed.
Great Blue Herons are dangerous birds to grab. They assume they are about to be eaten and will use their long necks and razor-sharp beak to stab if they feel threatened. They are not to be approached by anyone who hasn't been trained to handle them. Park Rangers from the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area worked with the Minnesota DNR and the Animal Humane Society to retrieve injured adults and take them to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota. Combined with the efforts of a few private citizens, three adults herons and nine chicks were recovered and sent for medical treatment.
On June 9, birds were observed building nests and quite a few were seen hunkered down and incubating in the nests. It's not known for certain if there are viable eggs in the nest or if the birds are going through the motions, but it is possible they could be incubating fertilized eggs. If they do have fertilized eggs, that means young would be ready to go by mid-September. If we have a warm autumn, those chicks could make it. Great Blue Herons are hardy and do not leave this area until all the lakes and rivers are frozen. A handful of birds have been known to hang around all winter where there is open water and abundant food like Pig's Eye outflow so it's not out of the question that the re-nesting herons will have a successful nesting season after all.
This is an exciting learning opportunity for our park and a testament to animal resiliency. It also shows that it's possible to cohabitate with wildlife in urban areas. The herons have obviously found great resources of food if they chose to re-nest in the same area this late in the season.
The new nesting birds can be observed in two different areas. One nesting area can be observed by walking the trail from the East Coon Rapids Dam visitor center south along the river. There
Did You Know?
At Lake Onalaska, near LaCrosse WI, the Mississippi River is about 4 miles wide. The combination of water held behind Lock and Dam #7 and water held by damming the Black River form this broad reach of the Mississippi River.