Three years in, western bluebirds thriving in Cowichan

Western bluebirds had been extinct from Vancouver Island for almost 20 years when a group of local conservation organizations came together in 2012 to reintroduce the species to their former range, starting in the Cowichan Valley.

Now, three years into the Bring Back the Bluebirds project, western bluebirds can once again be found flying, nesting and breeding in the Cowichan Valley, with additional sightings from Nanaimo to Victoria.

"We are very happy with the success of this reintroduction effort," says Jemma Green, the Bring Back the Bluebirds project coordinator. "Each year the number of birds returning to the Valley increases. In 2013 we had four birds return; in 2014 there were eight; and this year we have 20 and counting. And just last week the first nestlings of 2015 hatched. There are six of them and so far they are doing well."

Once common in Garry oak meadows and savannahs throughout the region, the western bluebird population in British Columbia became extirpated (locally extinct) in 1995. Habitat loss and competition for nest holes with exotic birds are among the reasons for the loss of these tropical-looking songbirds.

Bring Back the Bluebirds is led by the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ecostudies Institute,

the Province of B.C. and the Cowichan Valley Naturalists.

The first pairs of western bluebirds brought up to Vancouver Island in 2012 were released on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve in Duncan. Each year since then some of the birds have returned to this site to nest and raise their young. This year is no exception.

Two pairs and one unpaired male can be seen regularly at the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve. One of the paired males

fledged at the preserve in 2012 and has returned three years in a row to breed there.

The other paired male and the unpaired male are both his offspring; both fledged at the preserve in 2013.

"We host monthly bluebird survey volunteer events at the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve and around the Valley, and every time we have been able to spot some bluebirds," said Katy Fulton, who coordinates volunteer events for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.