Great Blue Herons Find Home Alongside Auto Plant

LORDSTOWN, Ohio (AP) - The home of General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire models has another eye-catching attraction: The annual migration of hundreds of great blue herons.

The long-legged birds nest in a wooded corner of the sprawling GM complex alongside the Ohio Turnpike in northeast Ohio.

Greg Mischley, environmental manager at GM, said the birds nest on about 40 acres and look for fish in the storm-water ponds across the street or in the nearby Meander Reservoir along Interstate 76.

He said most of the birds come to the area in late winter or early spring, though some stay year-round.

Each June, the nests are counted to give wildlife officials an idea of how many birds are there.

Carole Babyak has been a part of the count since it began in 1976, when there were 253 nests. The number has been around 300 every year since.

"It's an established colony," she told The (Youngstown) Vindicator.

The herons return year after year, often to the colony where they were raised.

This year, 375 nests in 88 trees have been counted, making it the third-largest nesting area -- also called a rookery or heronry -- in Ohio.

The largest areas are around Sandusky Bay, with one a heronry on Lake Erie's West Sister Island numbering up to 2,000 nests.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife said there are heron breeding sites in 60 of Ohio's 88 counties.

Babyak said there are other local heron rookeries, including one at nearby Mosquito Lake north of Warren.

Each nest usually consists of a male and female, with several chicks.

One risk for the counters is that the birds will throw sticks, fish bones and other items at anyone who approaches. Counters use binoculars to look up into the tree and umbrellas and raincoats to protect themselves.

Mischley said few people are aware of the heron nests at the GM complex. He speculated that the birds feel protected and comfortable in the wooded area of old trees.

The area, which is also home to deer, beavers and Canada geese, is a protected area.

"We've left it alone for many, many years," Mischley said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)