If our Western Bluebird Project had a motto, it might be adapted from a quotation from the contemporary Turkish novelist and playwright Mehmet Murat ildan, who wrote, “Wherever there are [blue]birds, there is hope.”

Western bluebird mother and fledglings

Bluebird family, San Juan Island | Staff archive

The presence of Western Bluebirds in the islands (primarily San Juan) after they nearly disappeared from our region starting in the mid-1900s is a hopeful sign that efforts to conserve remaining patches of their oak-prairie habitat are paying off. But the bluebirds need human help if they are once again to prosper in the islands.

Throughout the history of the Bluebird Project, now in its eighteenth year, that human help has been forthcoming thanks mainly to a passionate corps of volunteers—San Juan Island residents (and sometimes visitors, too) who clean out nest boxes so they’ll make inviting homes during the breeding season, who scan the skies to count returning birds in the spring, who monitor nest boxes for eggs and hatchlings, then help put colorful bands on babies’ legs for identification in future years. These are the angels who give wings to the hope that this distinctive species can bring joy to future generations and serve as an emblem for oak-prairie conservation.

We lost three of our most dedicated “angels” this past year: Brian Clark, Carlo Franciosi, and Ed Pinnow. Here, we wish to recognize their efforts and honor their memory with brief stories about their passion for bringing back the bluebirds.

Brian Clark 

Brian became involved in the Western Bluebird Project in 2018, when bluebirds appeared at his and Rachel Merz’s home in lower San Juan Valley. Since that time, bluebirds have returned to their land every year to nest, and various pairs have produced dozens of offspring that have helped establish new nests throughout the islands.  

Brian quickly became smitten with the birds and soon was quite active with the project. He assisted SJPT staff with nest-box maintenance, aviary construction, and early-season searches. Brian developed a timed-feeding station (adapted from a pond trout feeder) to feed his beloved bluebirds a small daily allowance of dried mealworms. He also assisted with bird banding, employed various schemes to outwit house sparrows, created a sign for his driveway that said “SLOW—Stupid Baby Birds” so no fledglings might inadvertently be run over. He even gave names to all the avian family members that took up residence each year. He and Rachel were our Golden Nest Box Award winners in 2021, in honor of their awe-inspiring dedication to this project.  

We lost Brian to a brain tumor in January 2024. His widow, Rachel, remarked recently, “How did I ever get to be so lucky that I got to share a life with that sweet man?” Though we knew Brian for a relatively short time, we feel pretty lucky too. We will miss you, Brian. 

A selfie that Brian took after a Western Bluebird landed on his head.

Brian and Rachel upon receiving the 2021 Golden Nest Box Award | Staff Archive

Carlo Franciosi 

Carlo hosted nest boxes on his property for several years, but it wasn’t until 2023 that bluebirds took up residence in one. Carlo and his wife, Lauren, live off Sugar Pea Lane in San Juan Valley. Their immediate enthusiasm for their new residents was clearly evident from the regular reports we received from Lauren about the status of the bluebird family. Carlo was particularly taken with the birds.  

Lauren shared this: “Carlo was passionate about our island and the wildlife. He felt it such an honor and privilege to be part of the Bluebird Project. He was so enthusiastic about sitting on the deck, daily monitoring the houses and activity. When we received word the eggs had hatched, he was over-the-moon happy. I am so grateful he was able to see a successful year at our houses. It meant the world to him.”  

Carlo passed away in October 2023. His gentle, sweet personality and love for wildlife was a joy to watch, and we are so glad to have known him.   

A bird in hand: Carlo in action  | Courtesy photo

Carlo near his home in San Juan Valley | Courtesy photo

Ed Pinnow

Ed was a bit of a San Juan Island legend—the kind of guy who would bend your ear for a while if you drove by him when he was out for a daily walk, give you some of his homemade smoked trout, adopt wayward dachshunds, wax poetic about his favorite fishing spots—and by golly, if there were bluebirds on his property, he was paying attention.

The Pinnow property in lower San Juan Valley has been an enduring site of bluebird occupation since the project’s inception in 2007. Ed liked to keep his grass mown, and those short grasses make great “pantries” for bluebirds. He didn’t hold back when it came to scaring off aggressive (and bluebird-killing) house sparrows, and came up with several creative methods to ward off the pesky invaders from his back porch.   

Ed’s home has produced the most bluebirds over the (going on) eighteen-year span of this project than any other property on San Juan Island, largely due to Ed’s  vigilance. Upwards of 100 juveniles have been born there, and this haven has played an important part in helping to keep the population of bluebirds on San Juan persisting.  

Ed was quiet and unassuming. He didn’t like a lot of attention, but in his own unique way he made an outsize impact on the success of this project.  

We lost Ed in the spring of 2023.  His steady presence will be greatly missed.

Ed liked to tell “big fish” stories—and most of them were true! | Courtesy photo