A few years ago developers destroyed downtown Oakland’s largest rookery of black-crowned night herons. Workers removed dozens of nests before chopping down the curbside ficus trees where the birds had lived for years. The plan was to relocate them to a grove near Lake Merritt, but the night herons never agreed to this arrangement – and they weren’t tricked by the decoys meant to entice them away from their preferred territory. They simply found other trees in the downtown vicinity where they remain to this day.
When Oakland declared the black-crowned night heron the city’s official bird in 2019, the resolution described the species as “a resilient bird with remarkable adaptability in urban areas while remaining wild and retaining their natural behaviors.” This defiant attitude, along with the bird’s unconventional beauty and deep local roots, is why I’ve chosen to feature the night heron on East Bay Yesterday’s first t-shirt, a collaboration with Oaklandish illustrated by T.L Simons.
This project is a celebration of those who refused to be displaced.
But, of course, the story is never that simple. That’s why today’s episode digs into the local history of night herons and explores the relationship between development and Oakland’s natural ecosystems – featuring interviews with Golden Gate Audubon Society’s youth programs manager Clayton Anderson and journalist Sam Lefebvre, who recently asked “Is Oakland failing its official bird?” in The Oaklandside. Listen to the full episode here: Apple / SoundCloud / Spotify.
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