Urban Nature

Big Birds in the Big City

February 9, 2011

When not visiting her hometown of Brooklyn, New York, to “perfect her accent,” Nancy DeStefanis is helping kids discover nature through San Francisco Nature Education, the grassroots environmental education organization she founded in 2000. As the group’s executive director, Nancy is passionate about introducing students to the joys of birding and being outdoors. The organization serves more than 1,000 students every year.

BN: What turned you on to working with nature in the Bay Area?

ND: In June 1993, I discovered a great blue heron nest at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. I observed the adult fly into the nest to feed two great blue heron chicks. I checked with Audubon Canyon Ranch and San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory and learned that the nest I spotted was the first ever recorded in the city and county of San Francisco. I was hooked and have been collecting data ever since.

Over the years the heron colony has grown to an average of six nests per year. During the past 18 years, 139 chicks have fledged. During the past month, five adult herons have arrived back on Heron Island at Stow Lake. The season has begun. Our Heron Watch program opens on Saturday, April 9th. Please check our website for more details.

BN: What’s the most pressing issue you are working on today at San Francisco Nature Education?

In 1993, I discovered a great blue heron nest at Stow Lake, the first ever recorded in the city and county of San Francisco.

ND: The continuous school budget cuts have left zero dollars for field trips. Currently we must raise 95 percent of the funds from donors and grants to continue these vital programs. Since all our donors and funders have been negatively affected by the economy, our fundraising must increase by means of a broader base of donors and funders.

If everyone who ever took one of our nature hikes (birding for families, birding for everyone, heron watch, and birding at Heron’s Head Park) would join at the basic membership fee of $30.00 that would be a huge help. We are also starting merchandise sales of baseball caps with our insignia and postcards and greeting cards of our great blues in action.

BN: What’s your favorite park, hike, or place to go in the Bay Area?

ND: Golden Gate Park is still my favorite because there are so many birds to observe at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Stow Lake, Chain of Lakes, and the entire west end of the park.

You can also join San Francisco Nature Education to view herons in another part of the city. The organization now leads public tours at Heron’s Head Park in Hunter’s Point. Learn more here.

About the Author

Beth Rodio edits Bay Nature's Connections newsletter.