A true bluebird of happiness landed in the Sun River and Tk'emlúps Reserve area Sunday as a handful of residents spent Earth Day building nesting boxes for the threatened creatures.
Sun River and Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc teamed up to build the boxes to replace sensitive habitat lost to the bluebirds from urbanization, logging and the suppression of natural fires.
The western bluebird was once widespread across southern B.C. In open parklands, the brilliant blue-and-rust birds can be seen sitting on low perches, swooping lightly to the ground to catch insects and gathering in small flocks to feed on insects or berries, giving their quiet, chortling calls.
They are now thought to be completely eradicated from the Georgia Depression area (southeastern Vancouver Island, Vancouver and Olympic Peninsula) but still live in the Okanagan to southwestern Alberta.
"The destruction of appropriate bluebird habitat is one reason for population decline," said box building co-organizer Carrie Dan, Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc senior archaeologist and assistant manager culture and heritage.
"With increased urbanization and loss of open space, the number of available places for bluebirds to live and nest has decreased drastically."
Bluebirds will usually perch on nearby branches, wires, and fence posts to hunt for insects. Since they are attracted to rural open spaces with low grass, development and grazing have also reduced habitat availability.
Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, meaning that they use abandoned cavities or tree holes created by other birds and animals.
Even in appropriately wooded habitat, people may remove dead trees in an effort to clean up, which limits the places where cavity nesters can find nest sites.
"With the small number of cavities available, they must compete fiercely with house sparrows and starlings for these spots," said Dan.
Rona Home Centre at Mount Paul Way donated the cedar planks and Tom Jenkins donated his time cutting the pieces so the Sun River and Tk'emlúps volunteers could put them together.
Nesting boxes are a common solution among those hoping to help bluebird populations survive. Bluebirds readily take to nest boxes and even occasionally nest inside buildings or in the mud nests of swallows.
Conservationists also encourage individuals to make a difference by installing nesting boxes in their own backyards.