Bluebirds back on Island after almost two decades

After disappearing from Vancouver Island in the mid-1990s, the western bluebird is back and hatching in the Cowichan Valley.

At least 20 birds are nesting and breeding on the Island after successfully re-establishing themselves via breeding pairs brought from southern Washington state — one of the few enclaves with enough of the songbirds to spare, said Jemma Green, Victoria-based co-ordinator of the Bring Back the Bluebirds Project.

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Last week, six of the 2015 nestlings hatched and so far they’re doing well, Green said. “They are really sweet, one of the gentlest of the native birds we have in B.C., and they really need our help.”

Western bluebirds face many threats, from running into windows and predation by house sparrows and cats to exposure to herbicides and insecticides used by property owners, she said.

Some of the bluebirds in the project are in the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve in Duncan, while others are on farms and large properties. Bluebirds rely on tree cavities in the wild, preferably Garry oaks, and prefer open spaces to dense conifer forests, Green said.

Western bluebirds on the Island are far from out of the woods yet.

Nine pairs will need to be brought to the valley from Washington annually for at least two more years to establish a stable population, Green said.

The number of birds returning to nest since 2012 continues to increase, from four in 2013 to eight in 2014 to more than 20 this year.

The bluebirds’ decline on the Island began in earnest in the 1950s, when urbanization and agricultural expansion began to encroach heavily on Garry oak meadows and savannahs.

Bring Back the Bluebirds project is led by the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Ecostudies Institute, the province and Cowichan Valley Naturalists.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

Learn more

The public can learn more about western bluebirds and even have a chance to spot one Saturday at the In Bloom Wildflower Festival, held at the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve. This free, family-friendly event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For details, visit natureconservancy.ca/bc.

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