Bring Back the Bluebirds project is an ambitious species recovery project, bringing together a suite of project partners, landowners, and citizen scientists with the goal of re-establish a breeding population of Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) on southeastern Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands. Historically, bluebirds nested in naturally occurring cavities (e.g. a hole in a tree); however, these cavities have been lost as a result of deforestation and out-competition by invasive, cavity-nesting species such as the house sparrow. This project supplements nesting cavities by supplying wooden nest boxes in high quality bluebird habitat and conducting translocations (where birds are physically introduced to the Cowichan valley from a stable population in Washington state).
Our project is focused in the Cowichan Valley, near Quamichan and Somenos lakes, where we have been releasing bluebirds since 2012. Each spring, in addition to the bluebirds we release each year, we have seen adult and juvenile bluebirds returning to the Cowichan Valley. They are all successfully establishing breeding territories in suitable habitat, finding mates, and raising broods of their own. Beginning in 2017, the Cowichan Valley Naturalists’ Society has been monitoring the population of Western Bluebirds in the Cowichan area. This year, the British Columbia Conservation Foundation adopted the project with the continuing volunteer support of the Cowichan Valley Naturalists.
Western Bluebirds have been translocated from the stable population at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. This is a large population that permits us to move several family units (adult male, female and fledglings) to the Cowichan Valley without significantly impacting the population size in Washington. Birds are captured with a mist-net and the family is held in a large wooden aviary (photos below) while being moved north to Vancouver Island. This process is supervised by expert biologists and the health of the birds is assessed by a veterinarian.
Once in the Cowichan Valley, the aviary is placed in a high-quality parcel of habitat for roughly 3 weeks. This period allows the birds to get accustomed to their new environment and recoup from the journey across the border. The family is fed mealworms regularly and monitored for any signs of discomfort or illness. After nearly 3 weeks, the roof of the aviary is pulled back and the birds are permitted to leave and explore freely. Nearby, personnel of the bluebird project install many nest boxes to give the bluebirds as much choice as possible when selecting a nesting location. The bluebirds are given a pristine habitat, supplemented mealworms and numerous nesting sites in hopes of encouraging them to return to the location in the next year.