Revealing the Secret Lives of Herons and Egrets to Advance Five Decades of Conservation Research

ACR's new research and outreach program will inform wetland conservation efforts.

Wetlands provide crucial habitat for abundant wildlife and also benefit humans by filtering water, buffering us against floods, and providing a special place to enjoy nature. As top wetland predators, herons and egrets play an important role in maintaining wetland health. Their prevalence in these ecosystems makes them charismatic symbols for wetland conservation.

Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR) has spent more than 50 years as a leader in heron and egret research and regional conservation action. Now we’re expanding our study to include the interactions between these birds and their wetland ecosystems. This will provide science-based guidance for the protection of wetlands, the ways these systems enhance wildlife communities, and their importance in mitigating climate change impacts.

Below, see location data collected from the first three Great Egrets we've captured and tagged. Each color represents a different bird. This map was last updated on 8/17/17. To see a map with a live feed from the birds, click here.

Deciphering heron and egret behavior

Since early summer 2017, ACR researchers have been equipping herons and egrets with miniature solar-powered GPS tags to find out how individual birds interact with their environment. The tracking devices will show us what they need to survive and find food, where they spend the winter, and how far they travel to establish new nests.

“These GPS tags allow us to measure exactly where herons and egrets go and what they do when they get there, all day, every day, providing way more of this important data than a team of biologists with binoculars can collect,” explains project lead investigator Scott Jennings. “We can now study how much time individual birds spend in each type of habitat, how far they travel to reach their preferred habitats, and then follow individuals back to the colony to see how these behaviors influence their ability to raise young.”

Get in on the nature tech

With electronic tracking we’ll be able to display the locations of GPS-tagged herons and egrets in near-real-time on any internet-connected device. Not just for the scientists, you’ll be able to watch the secret lives of these amazing birds unfold on your phone or computer.

We will use the GPS data to energize ACR’s successful and well-known education programs for children. Seeing the everyday movements and actions of herons and egrets will engage students and help them understand the birds’ ecological importance.

Through this research and outreach program we can address challenges in the conservation of Bay Area wetlands. Ultimately, the project will dramatically strengthen ACR’s scientific work on herons and egrets. The findings will inform regional conservation efforts and inspire generations of people to value these beautiful birds and the wetlands that sustain us.


For more information on the ACR Heron and Egret Telemetry Project, contact Scott Jennings, ACR Avian Ecologist, scott.jennings@egret.org

Further reading may be found in Research goals of the heron and egret telemetry project, (pdf) attached below.


Photo Credits: 

  • Evan Jenkins and Galen Leeds