MASTER GARDENER PROGRAM — MGs in the News
Published in: Columbian • March 11, 2018, 7:40PM
By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer
Master Gardeners hope to hear of more sightings.
A variety of bird never-before seen in Clark County was recently spotted here. Now, backyard habitat experts are asking the public to keep their eyes out for the little birdies, and possibly offer them a bit of help.
“We want to encourage people to keep an eye out for (Western) bluebirds and to let us know if they see them,” Erika Johnson, coordinator for Clark County Master Gardeners said in a news release. “We may be able to offer nest boxes and help with monitoring.”
Johnson said she first spotted a handful of the birds about seven years ago at Heritage Farm on Northeast 78th Street. Then, after the big freeze last winter, she found four of them dead, huddled together in a bird house. That spring she saw a female fly north across 78th Street.
The sightings were exciting, but also strange. Neither local birders nor officials from nearby wildlife refuges had records of ever seeing them in Clark County before Johnson spotted them.
“It’s a great mystery,” she said in an interview with The Columbian.
About the size of a sparrow, the male Western bluebird is a compact little fellow. He has onyx eyes and a matching beak, and looks to be wearing a rust-orange vest over a cobalt blue long-sleeved shirt with a matching blue hood. The female’s appearance is more subdued. She wears a light rust-orange vest washed over a slate-gray body. Her gray wings are accented at the tips with baby-blue feathers.
Seeing them here is unusual because Clark County doesn’t contain much of the habitat the birds are known to depend on. Western bluebirds typically live in stands of oak trees and Ponderosa pine forests and nest in existing tree cavities such as woodpecker holes.
“They used to be a common bird around here, years and years ago. They were kind of extirpated from this area,” said Eric Bjorkman of the Vancouver Audubon Society. “They seem to be making a little bit of a comeback. The Willamette Valley is a staple for them. People down there have done a good job preparing a habitat for them.”
Last summer, during a gardening-with-wildlife workshop, people built and installed 10 nesting boxes near the farm in addition to many others that were already in place.
“We have ordered some native plants that have winter berries and will plant them in March to serve as winter food,” Johnson said in a news release. “Each bird box needs a perch 40 to 100 feet from the box so that the fledglings have a place to land at the end of their maiden flight. Ideally, some of these shrubs might double as perches.”
Johnson said people with open lands should keep an eye out for them, especially after they’ve mowed the lawn. That’s when the birds like to perch on elevated spots and pick bugs from the grass.
The master gardeners plan to start monitoring for the birds in the coming months. If anyone sees the bluebirds on or near their property, or while out on a walk, Johnson asks them to get in touch.
The the Washington State University Clark College extension office can be reached at 360-397-6060 ext. 5738, or by email: Erika.Johnson@clark.wa.gov.