Oakland has eight colleges and twelve sister cities, but The Town lacks a notable distinction: an official city bird.
If students in Park Day School’s third grade class have their way, that will soon change. In a video released via Change.org, the children launched a campaign to have the black crowned night heron declared the official city bird of Oakland.
So far, the avian advocates have attracted 361 signatures.
“It’s a cool and funky bird just like Oakland, so we want it to be the official bird of Oakland,” said a student in the video.
As likely to forage in alleyways as they are to fish in Lake Merritt, the stocky wading birds are found all over the city.
“The black crowned night heron needs our help,” said a student in the video. “They moved to downtown Oakland and their babies are falling out of their trees.”
Last month, several adult birds and their nestlings died after a ficus tree collapsed on 14th Street. Social nesters, night herons roost anywhere they're comfortable, which includes a line of trees along 12th, 13th, and 14th Streets and around the Downtown post office parking lot.
“It’s such an important part of our school to not only be involved in the community, but be aware of what people are doing to make the world a better place,” said Jeanine Harmon, director of community outreach and service learning at Park Day School.
Harmon said the third-graders learned about birds in science class, but Cindy Margulis, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, inspired the campaign to elevate Oakland's herons.
"One of the birds she talked about was the black crowned night heron and the issues around them being displaced," said Harmon.
“[Margulis] may have mentioned that wouldn’t it be cool if these birds were the official bird of Oakland,” she added. “This casual idea that she mentioned really planted a seed with the students.”
Administrators treated the idea as an excellent opportunity in civic education and began working with the students to make it happen, bringing them to Oakland City Hall, meeting with District 1 supervisor Dan Kalb and putting a video together for Change.org.
When Oakland City Library had a competition to choose a new library card design, Park Day School pushed for Lea Zalinskis’ design featuring a black crowned night heron checking out some books. Zalinskis’ design ultimately won in the adult category.
Even over summer break, Park Day students are still moving their campaign forward.
“One of the students had a chance encounter with Mayor Libby Schaaf recently,” Harmon said via email. “She launched right into telling her about the campaign they were leading for the black crowned night heron!"
The fact that the girl took her idea to Oakland's chief executive "gives you an idea of the level of commitment and enthusiasm these students have for this bird," said Harmon.