Western bluebirds take flight

The San Juan Islands Preservation Trust is in its fifteenth year of managing its Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project in the Pacific Northwest.

By Kirsten Ferguson January 13
Two Western bluebirds, with blue feathers on their heads, back and wings, and grey mixed with orange on their bellies, share a snack of an insect while resting on a tree branch.

Fifteen years after Washington’s San Juan Preservation Trust launched a project to restore Western bluebirds, the accredited land trust’s conservation work is paying off. In June, volunteer Dan Clingaman spotted a Western bluebird nest in a natural cavity of a Garry oak tree, indicating that a bluebird family had moved from an artificial nesting box back to a natural breeding site — an important sign of the species thriving in its traditional ecosystem.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment throughout the history of the Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project,” said Kathleen Foley Lewis, SJPT’s conservation project manager. “It’s a major step toward our goal of reintroducing a self-sustaining population of Western bluebirds to this part of their northern range.”

Western bluebirds evolved alongside Garry oak trees — tied to prairie habitat that has been disappearing over the last 50 years. Land trust volunteers help by restoring oak habitat on the islands every year. Bluebird releases and nest-box placements have occurred on private land with help from local landowners.

“This documented cavity-nesting on San Juan Island highlights the original goals of the Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project: to tie the two species together and have the community understand the importance of oak habitat and the role these trees play, not only for bluebirds but for many other native species,” Lewis said.

Making the story even sweeter, in July the same pair that reared the first clutch of chicks was spotted raising more babies, this time with an older sibling (from the first round) assisting the parents with nesting and feeding duties.

To learn more, watch San Juan Preservation Trust’s video "What’s So Great About Garry Oaks":

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