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Bluebirds mean spring has arrived on JBLM

A Western Bluebird female is spotted in training area 23 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in May 2021. Photo credit: Timothy Leque, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Public Works

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - When bird watching on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the beautiful Western Bluebird can be found in parks and across the South Sound prairie landscape. This able-bodied flyer is a calm bird and can be seen in open spaces.

Easily identified, this small to medium-sized songbird relies on the Garry Oak populated prairies. The male Western Bluebird usually has a patch of rusty brown across the middle of its blue back, and its throat is blue and belly is gray. On the female Western Bluebird, gray has replaced most of the blue feathers.

Bluebirds are blue because of the structure of their feathers, which only reflect blue light - like the sky. Their feathers are similar to a prism or crystal that scatters sunlight in a rainbow of colors.

With the help of many partners, JBLM has been monitoring Western Bluebird reintroduction to the Puget Lowlands since 2007. Once considered common, habitat loss and degradation triggered a wave of extinction for the bluebird in the mid-1900s.

The Western Bluebird typically prefers to nest in tree cavities. By providing nest boxes to replace cavities, it is possible to re-create this missing, but critical, habitat element for bluebirds. On JBLM, there are currently about 200 total active nest boxes.

Bluebirds will occupy approximately 40 to 70% of these boxes in each breeding season. Many also nest in natural tree cavities, meaning there could be as many as 150 to 200 pairs on the installation.

Although not endangered, Western Bluebird populations in the Pacific Northwest have been declining due to habitat loss. As a cavity nesting bird, it needs a wide area to nest in with plenty of snags and tree hollows. Thus, the rare South Sound oak prairie habitat found on JBLM is perfect.

Along with other major partners, Gary Slater, director of Avian Conservation at the Ecostudies Institute, began spearheading the Western Bluebird project thirteen years ago. This project has been a success thanks to several partnerships including:

  • JBLM 
  • The Ecostudies Institute 
  • The San Juan Preservation Trust 
  • The American Bird Conservancy 
  • The Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team 

Biologists, foresters and Fish and Wildlife staff maintain JBLM's prairies through active management and restoration to assist in the recovery of all listed and candidate federal endangered species in South Puget Sound region. JBLM fish and wildlife program volunteers clean nest boxes and document population numbers on the installation.

Washington State Fish and Wildlife have designated the population of Western Bluebirds in Washington as a "Species of Greatest Conservation Need." The staff asks that if you see this species, share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting form to assist with documenting the status of the bird for conservation and management.

Find the form here,

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