Helping the Western Bluebird Return to the San Juan Islands

Oregon’s Cascade Volcanoes Broadband Leadership Team Stewardship Project

by Linda Buckley

As part of a 5-day leadership retreat, our Cascade Volcano Broadband co-chair, Laurie Kerr, made arrangements for an awesome stewardship project in partnership with the San Juan Preservation Trust. Since 2007, the Trust’s Stewardship Manager Kathleen Foley has been coordinating a huge effort to reintroduce the Western Bluebird, whose northern range numbers had been aggressively reduced by the sparrow and starling populations since the 1960s. Kathleen led us in a full day service project involving hands-on cleaning, building, and repositioning bird boxes in preparation for the next breeding season of the Western Bluebird. The Trust has placed 400 safe nesting boxes across the San Juan Islands, and banded 75 babies this year alone!

Our team of six Leader Broads visited two sites where land owners under conservation easements, allow the Trust to place the bird boxes and maintain them. It took all of us, sometimes three at a time, just to hold the supporting pole in an upright position. Micky Ryan was our skilled GPS technician—she mapped out new locations for the bird boxes so they could be relocated. By moving the boxes, it decreases the birds’ vulnerability to predators.


The day ended when we visit a third site along a public park walkway next to a rock quarry (contrasting scenes of man and nature). It was close to 3 pm and most of us were bushed. Our leader Kathleen shared that this last bird box, had very little success in generating live chicks. She was visibly worried as we observed the male pick up mealy worms and deliver them to the nest in the box. Were eggs inside? Were they soon to hatch? With trepidation we waited to hear the news. With excitement, Kathleen shared that there were babies in the nest, which had just hatched within the last few hours of our arrival. THIS was GOOD NEWS!

About the San Juan Preservation Trust

The oldest of its kind in the state of Washington, the San Juan Preservation Trust is one of 32 such land trusts. All their funding is private and they’ve worked hard to protect 16% of the land on the San Juan Islands from development through conservation easements. Conservation easements provide a tax benefit for the landowner and persist through inheritance or resale of the property. Kathleen visits every single conservation easement yearly. Other projects include bringing back the island marble butterfly through creating safe habitat.

The San Juan Preservation Trust partners with the San Juan Land Bank, which receives 1% real estate excise tax for public lands. Our group hiked at Turtleback Mountain Preserve, the result of a hard fought successful campaign to preserve open space from commercial development! Another project is to bring back the Oregon White Oak to Orcas Island.

We will all remember this very special hands-on day of stewardship and education with the San Juan Preservation Trust—where we contributed to their mission of conserve, care and connect. Their vision ties in perfectly with the Great Old Broads for the Wilderness, learning about environmental issues through hands-on multi-sensory experience led by experts in the field.