Safe heron habitats constructed on Lake Norman

nhaggerty@charlotteobserver.comJuly 26, 2013 

HERON_ROOKERY_01

JOHN D. SIMMONS — jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com Buy Photo

— At the northern end of Lake Norman, six 30-foot wooden poles rise from the water. Three aluminum platforms stick out from each one.

Nearby, a great blue heron soars over the lake to an island.

For the vulnerable species, the poles will provide a safe place for the waterbirds to nest because the region’s population growth has destroyed their habitat.

“The nesting habitat is at such a premium,” said Gene Vaughn, a retired wildlife biologist for Duke Energy.

The poles, known as “rookeries,” were finished last Saturday.

Vaughn said the rookeries provide a good place for herons to nest because the water where they’re located is shallow, about 6 feet deep. There are also many fish, water snakes and turtles for the herons to feed on.

Each pole cost about $2,200, which was covered by a grant from the Habitat Enhancement Program of the Catawba-Wateree.

“These projects benefit everyone from anglers to birders, osprey to great blue herons and boaters and wildlife enthusiasts,” N.C. Wildlife Federation CEO Tim Gestwicki said in a news release.

Herons have in past years been building their own nests on power lines near the water. But Vaughn called that a “recipe for disaster.”

If a heron’s wing touches a wire, it can kill the bird and burn the wire, he said.

Until the rookeries were constructed, Blue Heron Island, on Davidson Creek in the lower part of Lake Norman, was one of the few safe places in the area for the herons to live. The island is off-limits to visitors during nesting season.

Development around Lake Norman has been a problem for the herons.

The population in the three-town area of Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson jumped 731 percent since 1990, according to the Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Corp. By comparison, the Charlotte area’s population grew 68 percent over the same period.

That growth has brought new homes, where residents often remove dead trees on which herons naturally nest.

The area with the rookeries is one of the few areas on Lake Norman that hasn’t had any housing construction, Vaughn said.

The heron rookery project is not the only conservation effort on Lake Norman.

Nests for osprey were constructed on Lake Norman in 1982, when there weren’t any osprey on the lake, Vaughn said. There are now more than 50 active osprey nests.

Vaughn says he expects to see the heron population to increase tremendously as well.

Haggerty: 704-358-6180

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