Rescue mission launched for Oakland's official city bird

Springtime in Oakland brings birds of a certain feather together. Look closely in the trees downtown and listen, and you might find yourself facing the city of Oakland's official bird, the black-crowned night heron.

"When people think of city birds they think of pigeons and maybe these days we think of crows," said Glenn Phillips, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, "We have these amazing black-crowned night herons that have nested in Oakland for hundreds of years."

Phillips said the black-crowned night heron needs help, so they're partnering with the Oakland Zoo on a Heron Rescue Project.

"These are feathered dinosaurs," said Phillips, "They like to nest in colonies, so they nest with their lots of other birds around."

The problem is the herons have moved over the years from Lake Merritt to colonies downtown. One rookery is at 12th and Harrison and another is over at Oak and 10th.

"This is a wildlife problem that's happening right here in Oakland, right in our backyard," said Colleen Kinzley, the Oakland Zoo Vice-President for Animal Care, Conservation, & Research.

Kinzley said when the baby herons hatch they aren't able to fly, so they often fall from the trees onto the pavement and have no bushes or grasses to hide in as they would if they were in the wild.

"They can be hit by cars, attacked by dogs, and the parents oftentimes won't continue to feed them because it's too dangerous for even the parents to come down to the ground," said Kinzley.

This week, the Oakland Zoo relaunched its Heron Rescue Teams for the first time since the pandemic shut down the program.

The teams went on patrol searching the colony nesting grounds for any hatchlings.

"We're just trying to provide them with that little bit of extra help, getting food, getting warmth, and getting some extra protection until they're 2,3,4 weeks older and can live on their own," said Kinzley.

The Rescue Program was launched after a tree in Oakland fell in 2019, endangering the colony of herons and snowy egrets nesting in its branches. Since then, the Oakland Zoo has taken rescued baby herons to the International Bird Rescue in Fairfield where they're fed until they're strong enough to be released back into the wild.

"They're not an endangered species, but they're a species of concern because they're really important indicators of the health of our environment," said Phillips.

Heron Rescue Mission LINK HERE. and Heron Rescue Hotline number: 510-703-8986.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or