A Hope for Mountain Bluebirds

Boosting mountain bluebirds populations in Northern BC

By Sarah Sutton

May 27, 2022

It’s springtime in the north and there’s a flash of blue near an open field—a spark of hope that it just might be a mountain bluebird! Some residents see them every year, while others go decades without ever seeing one.

Mountain bluebird populations have been in decline and local conservation efforts have focused on nest box building to increase the birds’ presence in the area.

This spring, A Rocha’s Northern BC Nature Centre in Houston hosted a bluebird nest box building workshop on Saturday, April 2. A total of 14 kids and 16 adults attended the workshop and 46 boxes were built and installed with the hope that more bluebirds will nest in the area.

Remembering John

The workshop was held in memory of local bluebird champion John Franken who passed away in December 2021. Franken was a long time resident of the Bulkley Valley and he and his wife Sandy established a mountain bluebird trail in the Smithers area of around 100 boxes. Over 30 years, he cleaned, monitored and recorded information each year.

“When John passed away in December, the family asked that donations be sent to A Rocha Canada or the Bulkley Valley Naturalists to go towards the bluebird nest box project. The workshop was a great way to use those donations and honour John,” says Cindy Verbeek, A Rocha’s Northern BC Project Coordinator. “Lots of the participants were past students of John’s and/or had been inspired by his passion for bluebirds and creation care.”

Article: A Life Devoted to Creation Care

Continuing the Legacy

An in-depth, long-term conservation project like John’s is rare, explains Smithers biologist Janine Pittman, who took over the project from Franken in 2019.

“I want to continue his legacy,” she says, “And add more boxes in nearby areas in the future.”

As a biologist, she says she would like to do more statistical analysis on his data. For now, though, it takes her about 8 hours each time she goes out and checks all the boxes. In May, she checks for eggs and by June, she sees if any have hatched. By July, there are no more eggs and by August, the boxes are mostly vacated. In the spring, the boxes get cleaned out to remove any mouse nests or other debris.

“From the data, John said he noticed that bluebird populations were declining. However, he also commented that there are more tree swallows which is a positive story in itself,” says Pittman.

Pittman encourages anyone interested in building nest boxes to check out Ellis Bird Farm’s Mountain Bluebird Trail Monitoring Guide, as it was highly recommended by Franken.

Mountain birdbird eggs in nest boxMountain bluebird hatchlings. J. Pittman Photos

Bird Walks in Houston

Do you want to learn more about birding in the Bulkley Valley? Join our conservation science team on weekly bird walks in the Houston area.