Western Bluebird Pacific Northwest, Ecostudies Institute

Photo by Kathleen Ballard

Ecostudies Institute is working to reestablish breeding populations of the migratory Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) in the Pacific Northwest using a combined program of reintroduction, population monitoring, and outreach. In collaboration with numerous US and Canadian partners, our goal is to ensure this iconic species can inspire future generations of children and adults and serve as an emblem for oak-prairie conservation.

The Western Bluebird began disappearing from oak-prairie habitats in the Pacific Northwest during the mid-1900s. Habitat loss was a major factor in their decline, but probably more important was the loss of cavities. By providing nestboxes to replace cavities, we can create this missing, but critical, habitat element for bluebirds.

Western Bluebird Pacific Northwest, Ecostudies Institute

Populations Extirpated1940 – San Juan Islands, 1960s – Olympic peninsula, 1970s – Whatcom County, WA, 1995 – Vancouver Island

Reintroduction techniques are modeled after those developed by Ecostudies during the successful reestablishment of Eastern Bluebirds in South Florida. The primary donor population is the large and expanding population found on Joint Base Lewis-McChord Military Base in South Puget Sound. Initial reintroductions took place on San Juan Island, but have since expanded to Vancouver Island, Canada.

Establishing populations, however, is only one element of recovery. Most remaining oak-prairie habitats occur on private land, so enlisting private landowners and local communities to participate and support the project is vital for long-term persistence of bluebirds. The public has numerous ways to participate including establishing and monitoring nest boxes, volunteering to survey for birds, or simply spreading the word about the project.

If you would like to report a Western Bluebird sighting in Puget Sound or obtain more information about the project contact Gary Slater.

Key Findings

Small populations have been established on San Juan Island and Vancouver Island, but challenges remain because populations remain small and vulnerable. One of the greatest threats is competition for nestboxes with House Sparrows.

On San Juan Island, the population declined precipitously from 32 to 14 individuals in 2013, even as the population on Vancouver Island grew to 14 individuals. This decline appears to be due to poor productivity and survival since 2011, which is attributed to extremely wet and cool spring and summers.

The most exciting result in 2013 was the first observation of dispersal events among populations. A female that fledged on San Juan Island dispersed to Vancouver Island and a female that fledged in South Puget Sound dispersed to San Juan Island. These movements show the connection among populations and highlight the need to focus conservations efforts at the regional scale.

Western Bluebird Pacific Northwest, Ecostudies Institute

Photo by Julia Daly

Publications

  • Slater, G. L and B. Altman. 2013 Re-introduction of the western bluebird to oak-prairie habitats in the Pacific Northwest, USA. In Global Re-introduction Perspectives: 2013, Further case studies from around the globe (Editor, Pritpal S. Soorae). IUCN/SSC Reintroduction Specialist Group. {PDF}
  • Slater, G. L and B. Altman. 2011. Avian Restoration in the Prairie-Oak Ecosystem: A Reintroduction Case Study of Western Bluebirds to San Juan Island, Washington. Northwest Science 85:223-232. {PDF}

Reports

  • Slater, G. L. 2013. Evaluating restoration progress during the two-year post-translocation period (2012-2013. Annual Report. {PDF}
  • Slater, G. L. 2013. Vancouver Island Western Bluebird Reintroduction Program Summary Report 2013. Annual Report. {PDF}
  • Slater, G. L and B. Altman. 2011. Reintroduction of Western Bluebirds to San Juan Island (2007-2011):¬†translocation methodology and evaluating success. Final Report.¬†{PDF}

Partners

 

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