The close of the 2018 breeding season marks the twelfth consecutive season of the San Juan Islands Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project. As a result of the collective efforts of SJPT employees and local volunteers, 2018 has been the most successful breeding season since a population drop in 2013!
Here are some notable statistics and highlights:
● This year so far we’ve had a total of 13 nesting pairs (up from nine last year!)
● 26 total breeding adults
● Eight non-breeding adults
Nestlings and Eggs
● 55 banded nestlings (including aviary introduced)
● 32 eggs remaining
● This season we have had 5 successful translocations!
● Two pairs that have successfully raised their first brood and working on their second as well as three families with a total of 16 juveniles.
● Note: All adults that were introduced re-nested on the island!
● This year despite intensive measures against predators, four breeding adults out of 26 went missing. One pair had a nest attacked by house sparrows but survived to re-nest on a different part of the island. We’re upgrading our predator guarding strategies to reduce loss in future years.
● We had one breeding pair that should win the unofficial “Bird Parents of the Year Award” because they laid some extra-large clutches this season. Their first clutch had eight eggs and their second had seven! This is impressive considering the average clutch size is generally around four to six.
● There are plenty of hardworking bird parents this year, including one pair that is currently working on raising its third brood! Many other pairs are working on their second brood as well.
● A new recruit has been recorded on the island this year, a breeding female has come across from Vancouver Island (Cowichan Valley). Seeing the exchange of birds between Vancouver Island and the San Juans is always exciting because it means that there is promise of successful genetic exchange in the future.
● Five unbanded new recruits have showed up in breeding pairs this season. Although banded birds provide useful knowledge about their origin and movements, unbanded birds offer a sense of hope that more birds may have nested on the island in recent years without our help.
End of Season 2017 Update
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
A birds’ eye view of feeding time on Cattle Point Road.
Video via GoPro 3 by Evan Foley
End of Season 2015 Update
Working closely with Ecostudies Institute, the San Juan Preservation Trust entered its 9th field season (!) aiming to re-establish a healthy breeding population of Western Bluebirds in the San Juan Islands. Following a protocol that has been continuously successful, three pairs of adults, and their nestlings, were translocated from from Joint-Base Lewis McChord and released on San Juan Island. All three pairs re-nested (or, “double-clutched”) on the island.
By the end of the season, the population rested at around 44 birds; (9 adults, 15 translocated fledglings, and 20 young born on the island). Keeping in mind that juvenile survivability rate is fairly low (around 20% typically), we’ll keep our fingers crossed that a good number of both adults and surviving offspring will return to our island in the spring of 2016. Regardless, after a near total decline of the San Juan Island population due to cold, wet springs in 2012 and 2013, SJPT, working with partners, are committed to continuing these “emergency translocations” to give this struggling population another chance.
As we move into the our 10th anniversary of the project, we’d like to emphasize that one of the goals of this project from the outset was to not only establish a healthy breeding population on SJI, but to expand the population to ALL of the former range. We’ve always considered the birds of Vancouver Island to be part of a larger regional population, regardless of divisions of water and geopolitical boundaries. In fact, we’ve seen one natural dispersal event of a female Western bluebird from San Juan Island to Vancouver Island, perhaps a hint at their former movements when their population was more robust. Those who have been following this project for some time know that since 2011, reintroductions have been ongoing in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, led by Ecostudies Institute and several Canadian partners. When you combine the population data from the entire region, not just San Juan Island, it paints a clearer picture of how regionally the birds are faring.
- Number of adult Western bluebirds found on San Juan Island and on Vancouver Island as of June 2015
- (Graph courtesy Ecostudies Institute)
Spring 2015 Update
A pair of Western Bluebirds has returned to SJPT’s Red Mill Farm Preserve, and more have been spotted elsewhere in San Juan Valley on San Juan Island, as this early spring has brought bluebirds and other insectivores (such as Tree Swallows) to our island a bit ahead of schedule. We are hopeful that more will arrive in the coming weeks, and we will be posting updates as we learn more!
So, what’s ahead for this field season? We will be monitoring existing populations of bluebirds and conducting “emergency” translocations as funding levels permit. The population on San Juan Island is still very vulnerable and therefore, continued assisted movement of birds to the island is warranted to boost the once-growing population hit hard by a series of bad weather events in the last several years.
This year, more than ever, as existing funding sources have dwindled, we are seeking private funding sources. You can help keep our bluebirds flying by clicking here or mailing a donation to SJPT, Box 759, Friday Harbor WA 98250. Please indicate “bluebird” on the memo field so we can apply the funds accordingly.
Questions/sighting reports can continue to be directed to Kathleen Foley, Stewardship Manager, at email@example.com.
Fall 2014 Update
Late this past July, the last two Western Bluebird juveniles successfully fledged and the San Juan Islands Western Reintroduction Project wrapped up for another field season. As we now move into autumn, small flocks of bluebirds can still be seen roaming the island prior to their migration to southern wintering grounds. A big “thank you!” goes out to all who were involved this year; many folks helped out the project by hosting aviaries and nestboxes, reporting bluebird sightings, or allowing our 2014 field technician, Kelsey Green, to access their property to monitor nests or check and mark their nestboxes.
The project, launched in 2007, experienced many successes in first five years of the project (read below for some of our history!) Due to extremely wet and cool summers of 2010-12, however, the population decreased, a pattern observed in other bluebird populations in the Pacific Northwest. To address this decline, this year the team executed emergency translocations of three family groups from larger populations near Corvallis, Oregon and Olympia, WA at Joint Base Lewis-McChord military installation. While there was some mortality during the season, the project also experienced success, as we happily watched many fledglings take flight. The overall success of these additional management efforts will be apparent next spring when is the number of returning bluebirds is determined.
In addition to these efforts, a new phase of the project commenced this year: locating and cataloguing the existing nestboxes on the island. This assessment effort will help us evaluate the nest box program and pave the way to improve monitoring efforts in the years to come through volunteer participation. As most of the quality bluebird nesting habitat is on private land, landowner and community involvement is absolutely critical to the success of the project.
Western Bluebirds are thrushes, often identified by their bright blue plumage and distinctive call. Preferring open habitats for foraging, they can often be seen in areas with scattered trees, especially oak groves, and mid-story perches such as fence lines. On San Juan Island, bluebirds are often spotted on Cady Mountain and at American Camp early in the season as they migrate in, and most commonly choose nests in the San Juan Valley area. Calls from islanders who spot bluebirds are very helpful for monitoring purposes.
Check back on this page in 2015 to get the latest bluebird news!
Summer 2014 Update
The Translocations Continue!
2014 marks our 8th field season on the project, and after two years of post-reintroduction monitoring, where we discovered that the Western bluebird population was declining, we have re-initiated translocations of birds to San Juan Island.
–The spring migration yielded low returns (4 returning birds confirmed + 2 other birds spotted but whereabouts currently unknown).
— Although our nestling survival rate from 2013 was high, we were expecting these low return numbers. Juvenile bluebirds will experience severe mortality rates in their first year (as is true of many migratory birds); with only 24 banded last year, we didn’t have high hopes for numbers of first-year birds returning.
–To date, the naturally returning pairs have produced four nestlings.
–Three family groups (adult pairs with young in the nest) have been translocated from the Ft. Lewis prairie in S. Puget Sound, and from the Corvallis area in Oregon to supplement this struggling population.
–After a brief period of time in a holding aviary, these family groups have been released, all on San Juan Island. Some adults and juveniles have stayed near the release location. Sadly, one female bluebird was caught and killed by a cat several miles away from the release location.
–Your best shot at viewing these beautiful birds is in San Juan Valley, and along the Cattle Point Road corridor. Contact Kathleen Foley for the “inside scoop” on their whereabouts. Some of these birds can only be viewed on private land and therefore permission from the landowner is required to see them.
The San Juan Preservation Trust, and our partners at The Ecostudies Institute, the American Bird Conservancy, and the local Audubon Society remain committed to our mission to restore a healthy and sustaining population of Western bluebirds in the San Juan Islands. We are continuing to seek funding to help us continue this project (through all the highs and lows!) to see this goal realized. If you can provide assistance in any fashion (monetary or labor) we would love to hear from you.
Inquiries regarding this project can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fall 2013 Update
Ups and Downs
2013 marks the 2nd year of post-reintroduction monitoring and our 7th field season on the project. It was an interesting year, full of highs and lows.
Here is a quick summary:
–(A low): 14 Western Bluebirds returned to SJI this year, a marked decrease from the returns in 2012 (34).
— (A high): We had nearly 100% survival rate of nestlings: all birds who hatched survived to fledging, with one exception.
–(A low): 24 nestlings were banded this year, down from 44 in 2012.
–(A high): One of our young females, hatched on SJI last year, flew to Vancouver Island and mated with a male there; the first recorded natural dispersal of these birds since the project began; a male (pictured above) also migrated to Canada.
–(A high): A female from the Ft. Lewis prairie made her way to SJI and mated with a male here, in another demonstration of natural dispersion.
–(A low): Both naturally dispersing females disappeared before young could be raised.
We well recognize that embarking on a project such as this will result in regular triumphs and frustrations. Our plan is to continue the post-reintroduction monitoring of our tenuous population to see if additional measures to augment it will be necessary. Stay tuned!
Fall Bluebird Movement
A common question we get asked is “Where do the bluebirds go in the winter months?”
Our typical response is…”We don’t exactly know.” We do know that usually they depart San Juan Island in October/November (depending on weather conditions). We had a suspected sighting of one of the San Juan population in the Willamette Valley in Oregon this past winter; its possible more go further south, or some may stay close by, potentially on Whidbey Island. Regardless, they aren’t flying as far south as some of the southern populations of Westerns, as they do return quickly; sometimes as early as February.
Now is a good time to look for fall flocking activity, especially on the American Camp prairie and Eagle Cove, False & Kanaka Bay areas.
As always, sighting reports (especially during this time of year, where we are trying to track surviving juveniles) are greatly appreciated.
You may reach Kathleen on her cell phone at 360-298-1856 to report sighting info.
Spring 2012 Update
With the March winds came the bluebirds, and we are thrilled to see them returning. So far this spring, we have observed 13 pairs of adults (26 birds) on San Juan Island that are actively nesting. Some females are already incubating eggs, others are still building their nests. A few other birds have been sighted but have not been identified just yet.
Especially promising this year is an increase in the number of returning females that were hatched here on San Juan Island. Returning females and a balanced sex ratio are good indicators of a self-sustaining population.
This year Kathleen will be monitoring the populations and we’ll be keeping a careful watch to see how well our initial 5-year effort, with active translocations of birds from Ft Lewis and Oregon, will pay off.
The bluebird project continues north of the border! In an effort to restore Western bluebirds to the entirety of their northern range, two pairs of birds were successfully translocated from Ft. Lewis to The Nature Conservancy Canada’s Cowichan Preserve on Vancouver Island. This is the first translocation of the “Bring Back the Bluebird” project conducted by GOERT (Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team, based in Victoria, BC) which was modeled on our successful project here in the San Juan Islands. Gary Slater of Ecostudies Institute coordinated the translocations. We will be anxiously monitoring to see how our neighbors (neighbours?) to the north carry the legacy of restoring the bluebird to their islands.
The numbers speak for themselves: 92 Adult Western Bluebirds were translocated from the Ft. Lewis, Washington and Willamette Valley, Oregon prairies. 238 baby bluebirds fledged on San Juan Island (possibly even more!). We have a current population size (returning adults) of 38. Over 600 nestboxes were placed on 10 different islands. 376 acres of current/historic oak prairie were permanently conserved. Over 300 community members became involved as volunteers and nest box hosts.
2007-2011 Project Accomplishments
After a 5-year run, the San Juan Islands Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project is wrapping up. We have a lot to celebrate.
- This project marks the first successful reintroduction of a migratory songbird completed in the United States.
- Releases and nest box placement were conducted almost entirely on private lands; nearly unheard of in reintroduction efforts of this sort.
- All of our funding came from individual donors and private foundations; we received no government funding whatsoever for this project.
Although this first phase of the project is “over,” we have more to do. Although the translocations will cease, we will be seeking funding to continue monitoring the population for the next several years to make sure that the numbers of returning and breeding adults continues on its upward trajectory. We will be relying on islanders’ sightings and observations more than ever now that we will no longer have a full-time technician to scout for the birds.
For those who are hosting nest boxes, please remember to clean out your nestboxes each fall and continue to vigilantly remove English house sparrow nests before the young hatch (house sparrows are a distinct and very real threat to bluebirds). Keep those binoculars dusted off and ready to report the first returns in the spring. It will be imporant to continue tracking leg band colors (we know – this can be tricky), as it helps us identify the movements and survival of individuals.
Report any sightings and activity directly to Kathleen Foley at 360-298-1856 or 360-378-2461 (note that the “Bluebird Hotline” number has been disconnected).
These birds have come home. After a long absence of 50+ years, they are now part of our islands and ecosystem again. They will continue to grace our islands only with our help and good stewardship. Please continue to embrace and support their presence here and help us to ensure that they never disappear again. Thank you!
(all photos: Kathleen Foley)
(Want to get caught up on what happened this past year? Download any of these Bluebird Updates from the 2011 season; or check out this great overview video created for us by Jane K. Fox.)
THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS WESTERN BLUEBIRD REINTRODUCTION PROJECT IS MADE POSSIBLE BY:
Primary Coordinating Partners
The San Juan Preservation Trust
American Bird Conservancy
San Juan Islands Audubon Society
Ft. Lewis Military Installation
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
In Cooperation With:
Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
The Nature Conservancy
Pacific Coast Joint Venture
Principal Funding Sources
Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund
Zoo Boise Conservation Fund
Wildlife Forever Fund
American Bird Conservancy Donors
San Juan Preservation Trust