A Western Bluebird in flight in San Juan Valley | Kathy Finholm

The 2023 bluebird season–the seventeenth year of the San Juan Preservation Trust’s Western Bluebird Project–has been an especially active one. We’ve seen five nesting pairs return to San Juan Island, resulting in 30 offspring that have fledged the nest so far, with more likely on the way soon! We know this thanks to the many monitoring visits that Bluebird Project volunteers have been busy making over the course of the spring and summer.

SJPT staff and volunteers constructing a bluebird aviary | Barbara DeFalco

The 2023 summer also saw the project’s first transfer, or translocation, of a bluebird family to San Juan Island in five years. In the translocation process, which took place in June, a new family of bluebirds was captured from an existing, well-established population in the South Sound and transported to the islands.

Given a lower number of returning adults this spring than in previous years, SJPT translocated one pair of bluebirds and their young offspring from Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) near Olympia (where the northernmost large breeding population occurs in the prairie ecosystem; this was our source population of Western bluebirds for the initial phases of the project). The pair had three young when they arrived. The family was held for a few weeks of local “homing” in an aviary constructed by Preservation Trust staff and Bluebird Project volunteers. All were released from the aviary at the end of June and, since then, the adult pair has renested in the vicinity and produced a new brood of eggs.

Translocating bluebirds from JBLM has been successful strategy over the years, as it “fixes” the adults here as they care for recently fledged young and often stimulates them to breed again, which they did in this case. Translocations have also occurred on Vancouver Island, where a partner project has started. Historically, these birds likely “mixed it up” (and indeed, we have found “Canadian” bluebirds in our population and vice versa), so as their population begins to grow it will benefit ours as well. This is something we will continue to monitor in the future.

The regional Western bluebird population is still small and vulnerable, but after nearly two decades of reintroduced presence here, we remain hopeful they will continue to return. Continued support from dedicated volunteers and landowners has kept these birds returning to the islands, and the Bluebird Project would not be possible without their support.

Busy and productive summers, like this one, show examples of positive momentum that these efforts can provide for the bluebirds and the important boost that comes from a committed corps of human volunteers supporting them.

Want to join the Western Bluebird Project, or know someone who does? 

We always need volunteers, especially in the early spring when the birds start arriving (usually by late February or early March). We want folks who can help check and clean out nest boxes, and also monitor for bluebirds.

Please contact SJPT Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator Jack Russillo (jack@sjpt.org) if you are interested!