Gay HuberBlue Herons made themselves at home in West Windsor Deputy Township Clerk Gay Huber’s backyard on Old Bear Brook Road in April 2010. She has lost several Koi fish to the birds.
WEST WINDSOR — When Gay Huber constructed a koi fishpond in her backyard on Old Bear Brook Road about 10 years ago, she wasn’t anticipating fishermen.
But what the deputy township clerk got was blue winged-scavengers, preying on her expensive new pets. The perpetrators were great blue herons.
Corey Sperling, a naturalist at the New Jersey Audubon Society’s Plainsboro Preserve, said the birds can grow to be 4 feet in height, weighing as little as 5 pounds. They’re known for their slender, blue-gray body that gradually fades in color up to the neck. They have black feathers atop their head, and a very long and slender beak that they use to quickly catch fish, like Huber’s koi.
“They’ve cleaned out my fish pond a couple of times,” Huber said.
Huber’s fishpond construction coincided with the creation of a wetlands preserve that has became home to a flock of 27 herons. The township has been doing its best to accommodate them, as they are relatively rarer in New Jersey than some other places.
Last month, West Windsor accepted a total of $567,617.50 in grants from the Mercer County Open Space Preservation Trust Fund Tax, and Friends of West Windsor Open Space to aid in the purchase of the 27.59-acre preserve from the Jewish Community Center. Of the 27.59 acres purchased, 8.84 acres is wetlands, and the remaining 18.75 is developable.
The total purchase of $1.3 million, completed in March, came from the township’s open space fund. The balance will come from township residents’ tax payments. Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said the township is looking into applying for the State Green Acres Program for additional contributions.
Though Huber knows there is a price to pay for having big, fish-eating birds in the township, officials and wildlife enthusiasts are touting the beauty of herons and the significance of wetlands preservation for a rapidly developing area.
The herons’ nests are located in tall trees along Clarksville and Meadow Roads near the new Princeton Terrace Apartments. But, the serene habitat they now live in didn’t begin that way.
The state built the wetlands 10 years ago, according to Dan Dobromilsky, township landscape architect and spokesman for the township’s environmental commission. The flock of herons have adopted the wetlands as their home.
Sperling said the creation of the marshland is the reason for their extended visit.
“What you have now are the great blue herons, which are wetland and wooded swamp birds.
They now come to that area. It is a good sign that you’re seeing those birds there because that’s their natural habitat,” Sperling said.
The township has named the zone “The Great Blue Heron Preserve.”
To humans, the land may look bogged down with various trees and soaked soil, but to the herons, it’s a sanctuary.
Yet, Dobromilsky said, it’s rare for the herons to nest in locations that are as densely populated as West Windsor.
Sperling said male herons begin building nests in February. Breeding season runs from March through May, and the birds can best be seen anytime during that period. Some of them, Sperling said, are year-round.
Director of community development Patricia Ward said the township has had to schedule construction work around their nesting season, so as not to disturb the birds.
“That’s why we had to be careful when we were doing the work at the intersection at Clarksville and Meadow roads, because you can’t make a lot of noise next to the heronry while they’re nesting,” Ward said.
Ward recalls a time a few years ago when her husband was driving along Clarksville Road, and a heron flew just over the hood of his car. “They’re tolerating us better,” she said.
The species, though not endangered, has captivated the residents and officials in West Windsor for the past 10 years.
“Sometimes what makes us interested in the animal, a lot of times, is what they look like, and things like that,” Dobromilsky said. “I think it’s because they’re unique looking. They’re big. They’re big birds.”
Huber isn’t a bird expert, but she’s seen the large birds enough to learn that their flight pattern goes directly over her house in the early morning and evening hours. She hasn’t given up on owning fish, but she no longer replaces them.
“Everybody I know that has a pond in West Windsor, at one time or another has been affected by the blue heron,” she said.
Huber placed netting and objects on the water’s surface. She even went as far as to place a 3-foot fence around the pond in an attempt to protect her koi, but that didn’t stop them.
“That’s when I gave up on adding new fish,” she said. “When they’re hungry, they’ll find their way in.”
Contact Samantha Costa at (609) 989-5680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.