A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


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.

“The black-crowned night heron is a cool and funky bird, just like Oakland,” according to a student quoted in the city’s resolution naming it the official bird. [Photo: Elizabeth Sy]

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.

The “Night Herons vs. Displacement” t-shirt is now available at Oaklandish. The image was created by T.L. Simons, who also illustrated the Long Lost Oakland map.
“Night herons are not endangered, but this is when we should be saving them. Not when it’s too late.” -Clay Anderson, Golden Gate Audubon Society. [Photo: California Center for Natural History]
“They are not classically cute, like a goldfinch, or obviously majestic, like a great blue heron. But every time I saw a night heron, no matter what, I broke into a stupid grin.” -Jenny Odell, from the essay “The Colonels: In Praise of the Ordinary Night Heron.” [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]
This stretch of 14th Street between Alice and Jackson was home to dozens of night herons until developers were given permission to remove several mature ficus trees in 2018. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]

“I think it’s really good to be reminded that much of the city was once marshland,” Sam Lebvre said of the resolution declaring Oakland’s official bird. Listen to the podcast now to hear more about why night herons have been drawn to Oakland for millennia. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]
The message of this project is not that all development is bad. It’s to raise questions about how to balance a booming population with delicate natural ecosystems. My hope is that this t-shirt will spark difficult conversations about Californians’ relationship with the natural world. As we choke through another season of unprecedented wildfires, I can’t think of a better time to have them. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]

East Bay Yesterday can’t survive without your support. Please donate to keep this show alive: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday

“They insist on being here”

Oakland’s official bird refuses to be moved
Recent Episodes