Great Blue Herons in Cuyahoga

In Cuyahoga Valley National Park, environmental remediation efforts on the Cuyahoga River birthed the park’s creation after the river caught fire for the twelfth time in 1969. In order to track the resulting change in environmental health, the park’s resource management department began weekly surveys of Great Blue Heron nesting sites (heronries) in 1993. Various species are used as measures of environmental quality, which are related to pollution levels, land use change, or weather stressors. These species or communities are often called bioindicators. Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) can be used as a bioindicator as they are greatly affected by the quality of their habitats, which include wetland-open water, freshwater and brackish marshes, swamps, lakes, rivers and mangroves. For the Great Blue Heron monitoring project of Cuyahoga Valley Site, volunteers collect the location of nests and description; dates of site visits, nest construction, occupancy, incubation and hatching; and number of active nests and number of young fledged. Using spotting scopes and binoculars, citizen scientists survey the heronries on a weekly basis beginning in early January, when birds begin nest building, through the end of June when young fledge the nest. Over the course of the project, three distinct heronries have been monitored: The Bath Road, Wetmore Road, and Pinery Narrows heronry. So far, this data has been used to create graphs depicting total number of nests and fledglings for each year in the park. In my role as an Avian population monitoring intern for the park, I will continue data entry and collection, update data visualization for the project, and produce a final report that includes new statistical analysis. In this statistical analysis, I will look into population trends and determine whether increases or decreases in the population size at a given site are statistically significant. I will also create an updated monitoring protocol for future decades of Great Blue Heron monitoring efforts as the park’s watershed continues to grow in health and biodiversity.

Herons nesting at the Bath Road Heronry
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