Western Bluebird Reintroduction

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 End of Season 2017 Update

It’s been a good year for the San Juan Islands Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project! Here some stats and noteworthy events from the 2017 season:

  • In the spring of 2016, we were disappointed when only 6 individuals returned to the island. This year, by contrast, 20 individuals returned from their wintering grounds: 17 from 2016 (first year in population), 3 from 2015, and 1 from 2014 (the infamous “Al Pacino,” named for his colored leg bands). That is a huge increase in numbers of birds either staying on the island or returning to the island!
  • It’s quite likely that one reason the return rate was higher this year is because 6-8 birds over-wintered in 2016/2017 (i.e., they didn’t migrate, but stayed all winter on San Juan Island).
  • A total of 23 individuals were translocated in 2017 (10 adults and 13 juveniles). This occurred in a total of 6 events: 2 single females (separate translocations), 1 breeding pair without nestlings, and 3 family groups (separate translocations).
 
Banding nestlings, August 2017 | Credit: Shaun Hubbard
(Highlights, continued:)

  • In 2017 we had two natural recruits (meaning that they weren’t translocated, but came of their own accord): one from the Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) population and one from the Vancouver Island population. (Last year, we had no natural recruitment from other populations.)
  • We also had one female that arrived on Lopez Island, set up a home with a willing male, and then flew north to establish another nest with a different partner on Vancouver Island! That is a another positive sign, as it demonstrates the birds are dispersing naturally along their historic flight paths.
  • Inevitably, we lost some. We had 6 confirmed and assumed deaths in 2017: 5 adults and one juvenile (confirmed). Nest depredation (raccoons, house sparrows being the most likely culprits) was an issue this year with at least 7 depredation events.
  • At the end of this season, the assumed living population is 69 individual birds (28 adults and 41 juveniles). In 2016, by comparison, we ended the year with a total of 35 individuals (12 adults and 23 juveniles). So, in one year we’ve basically doubled our population. Good news!
 
Female on a fence, May 2017 | Credit: Jeff Brennan
Reminders for nest box hosts and other volunteers:

  • If you are hosting a nest box, now is the time to clean it out! And, if you can report to us what kind of nests you find, we would be grateful. We are happy to furnish you with photos of other cavity-nesting bird nests to help you ID it. Just contact Kathleen at kathleenf@sjpt.org.
  • Volunteer box monitors:  if you cleaned boxes out this spring, now is the time to revisit the boxes you previously cleaned out, fill out the forms provided to you, and return them to Kathleen by the end of December.
  • Want to volunteer?  We always have need for volunteers, especially in the early spring when the birds start arriving (usually by late February or early March).  We need folks who can help check nest boxes, search for bluebirds, assist with feeding birds in aviaries, and help with moving mobile aviaries around.  Please contact Kathleen if you are interested!

End of Season 2016 Update

Another season of the San Juan Islands Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project has come to a close. As with every season since the project began in 2007, this one had its ups and downs. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Our total bluebird population in the San Juan Islands grew, thanks to an infusion of three newly translocated families.
  • We also saw a healthy hatch of youngsters emerge from the nesting boxes.
  • We were pleasantly surprised when one family, feared lost, turned up over on Lopez Island—a first for the project.
  • We also experienced some disappointments, with fewer returning adults than we’d hoped for, plus a sad midseason case of cat-inflicted mortality.

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The year started with the return of six adults in late February—two females and four males. Of these returning bluebirds:

  • three were born on San Juan Island last year,
  • two were translocated to the island last year, and
  • one was translocated to the island two years ago.

One pair of the returning birds established a nest on SJPT’s Red Mill Farm Preserve, conveniently located just outside our field office. Every morning as we arrived at the farm, we were greeted with the “phew phew phew” of a bluebird perched on the fence of the Salish Seeds Nursery.

Another pair was adventurous and decided to nest on Lopez Island. This was a first for the project, and likely was the first pair to nest on Lopez in several decades. They picked an idyllic nest box on the southwest part of the island.

We also had two bachelor males return. One of them tried his best to attract a female, picking out a nice territory with plenty of boxes to choose from and a wide grass lawn where the foraging was good. This little guy defended his territory from all challengers, such as tree swallows, house sparrows, and the like, for most of the summer. The other returning bachelor was more interested in roaming the island, popping up in different places during the season.

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In an effort to boost our population and recover from the decline of 2012/2013, we completed three translocations this year, bringing a total of 18 new birds into the population. In each translocation, we brought a family group (an adult pair with nestlings) up from Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) in South Puget Sound. JBLM has one of the largest intact Garry oak savannahs in the northwest, as well as a robust population of Western Bluebirds.

We held each of the translocated families in the aviaries for 4 or 5 days, until the nestlings fledged and were able to fly with confidence. At that point, we released them and did our best to track them.

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Two of the three translocated pairs successfully re-nested shortly after release. One of these had a clutch of 6 eggs, and the other had a clutch of 5 eggs, all of which hatched. As is often the case, the older juveniles helped feed their nestling siblings, but surprisingly, our bachelor males showed up at one of the territories and helped out with the feeding (albeit on a two-for-me-one-for-you basis).

Our final population for the year is 33 or 34 birds between San Juan and Lopez Islands. Now, as the season is ending, the bluebirds are roaming around the islands, grazing on remaining insects before they head south for the winter. We wish them well and hope for a big return in the spring!

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As a reminder, if you have nest boxes on your property, the breeding season is now behind us, so go ahead and pull out the nests inside. When our bluebirds return, they will be looking for clean boxes!

If you have any questions or comments, contact Rob Roy McGregor (robroy@sjpt.org or 360-317-1180) or Kathleen Foley (kathleenf@sjpt.org or 360-317-1180).

Thanks to our partner, Gary Slater at the Center for Natural Lands Management (cnlm.org), for his technical oversight of the project—and to you for your decade-long support of this effort!