Bluebirds bring colour, song and joy to Black Mountain
Every year, FoBM volunteers with an interest in birds set up and monitor a series of wooden boxes that are specially designed and placed to attract bluebirds to build their nests. The objective is to support the region's population of two species of bluebirds -- Mountain and Western. Led by FoBM Board Member Carol Millar, team members regularly check the boxes in order to track bird numbers.
It is critically important that these birds not be disturbed, so please do not approach any of the nesting boxes, and always keep your dogs on leashes. We have put together this page to help you better understand the bluebird nesting project -- its history, purpose, challenges and results.
To read Carol Millar's Summary of the Bluebird Watch for 2020, click here
The Bluebird Project on Black Mountain
Black Mountain/Sntsk’il'ntən Regional Park boasts a variety of habitats, most notably a large expanse of precious grasslands — the kind of open area where bluebirds are most likely to nest. While bluebird populations have been severely threatened across British Columbia, the diligence of a handful of local volunteers has helped boost the populations of these beautiful birds.
About 20 years ago, people noticed that the bluebird population on Vancouver Island had declined so much that the bird was considered locally extinct. The evidence pointed to invasive bird species (starlings), pesticide use, a shortage of dead trees for natural nesting, and a loss of grasslands as the contributing factors in this unfolding tragedy.
Fortunately, a determined group of people set up special nesting boxes, which helped reestablish a bluebird population. This success encouraged others: There are more than 5,000 bluebird nest boxes in British Columbia today.
Some years ago, bird lovers Doreen and Lou Wirenga set up a “bluebird trail”, which is a series of nesting boxes along a line of fencing, in what is now Black Mountain Regional Park. They had some success, but the work of monitoring and safeguarding the boxes was proving too much. In response, members of Friends of Black Mountain took up the torch and have been installing and monitoring new boxes in the park for the past five years.
FoBM Picks up the Torch
Starting with 12 boxes, we chalked up some success in our first year! We were delighted when Western Bluebirds claimed a handful of the boxes for their nests, and we watched their young ones hatch, grow and fledge.
But our task was not without its challenges.
Cattle from a nearby ranch got into the park, and in some cases mamas and their calves found themselves on opposite sides of the fences. Wanting to be together, they walked along the fence line, knocking off boxes as they went. So we raised the boxes higher.
Then heavy equipment began to alter the natural lands to the west of the fence line, in order to turn them into a giant vineyard. The RDCO fence posts supporting the bluebird boxes were pulled out and replaced with 10-foot-high deer fencing. While the boxes were saved, a few were roughed up and broken. The boxes were repaired and reinstalled high up on the sturdy new posts. Despite ongoing construction work, the Western Bluebirds came back.
In some years we’ve found tree swallows nesting in our bluebird boxes. These bird species are compatible in that they warn each other of impending predators, and bluebirds don’t like to nest too close to other bluebirds — housing densification does not work for them! Last year we witnessed a rather physical battle between a western bluebird and a tree swallow. Ultimately, they worked out a truce and managed to nest in boxes about 15 feet apart and successfully breed.
Our program has continued to grow: we now have 19 boxes in the grasslands area.
Over the past two years we are happy to report that Mountain Bluebirds have also successfully nested and fledged.
Unfortunately fewer boxes were used this year than in the past, possibly due to the blasting, drilling and hauling of large boulders in the adjacent vineyard, spitting distance from several boxes.
On the plus side we now have a dedicated team of volunteers who are monitoring the birds according to the protocols set out by the Southern Interior Bluebird Association. With time we hope that we will continue to see an increase in the population of these beautiful birds.