The Joys and Despairs of Bringing Back Bluebirds

We live in interesting times. Times when a person could come to hate the word “unprecedented”. It is at times like these when you might stop and wonder why we choose to put hope in the things we do. Why protect this species, why fight for this group of trees, why join this particular climate action?

My moment to question came when no Western Bluebirds were sighted on Vancouver Island this spring. This was not shocking, numbers have been decreasing over the past few years. The population desperately needed more translocations but border closures due to Covid prevented us from bringing more bluebirds across from the healthy population in Washington. Our population needs to reach a critical level before it has any possibility of sustaining itself and it clearly wasn’t there yet. Many caring naturalists in both the Cowichan Valley and Victoria have worked for years on this project and I needed to remember why.

The answers came to me over the summer, bit by bit. When I saw that the boxes we replaced on one nest box host’s property were now housing Violet-green and Tree Swallows instead of House Sparrows. When I watched numerous nests of local species go from eggs to fledglings, nests that wouldn’t have had a cavity without this project. When we spoke with community fair goers and heard their delightful tales of backyard stewardship and were able to support them with the information they needed. When we had the encouragement of seeing one of our Cowichan raised bluebirds nesting on San Juan Island, someday these populations may help to sustain each other as birds travel back and forth.

I was also buoyed up by the successes of others who have done this work before us. The San Juan Island Western Bluebird Project has gone through this before; they brought Western Bluebirds from Washington for years only to suffer a population collapse when translocations were paused. But they persisted with more translocations and have now had a stable population for three years after stopping translocations. Eastern Bluebirds in Ontario were once listed as a “species of concern” as their numbers declined to dangerous lows. Nest box trails were established and succeeded in bringing the population back up to the point where it is no longer listed as a concern.   

The biggest moment of joy this season came as we released a family of Western Bluebirds, one pair and their six nestlings, to a beautiful patch of Garry Oak habitat in the Cowichan Valley. In the big picture, this translocation is a small thing. One family does not rescue a population. But it was a good reminder that successes are built of many small things sustained over time. Not one of us alone has the power to fix the problems we face. We need everyone to bring their own skills and passions to sustain their own small things, we need everyone to choose hope.

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