Contributed by Loyd Csizmadia.
Concerned about the use of pesticides to control grasshoppers, Williams Lake Field Naturalist Anna Roberts approached the ranchers of Becher’s Prairie with an alternative: Mountain Bluebirds.
In 1977-78, the Williams Lake Field Naturalists initiated the Becher’s Prairie Resource Management Plan. Funding from the provincial Department of Agriculture paid for the construction of 474 nest boxes and two summer students. In addition, sixteen field naturalists volunteered to install, monitor, repair, and clean the boxes on six routes.
During the first year of the program, 36 Mountain Bluebirds, 22 Mountain Chickadees, and 135 Tree Swallows occupied the nest boxes. Breeding bird data was recorded and then sent to the BC Nest Records Scheme at the provincial museum in Victoria, B.C.
Today, the Williams Lake Field Naturalists continue to support the Mountain Bluebird Program. Thirty-two volunteers manage over 1000 nest boxes on thirty routes. Most routes are located throughout the Becher’s Prairie, as they were in 1978, but other routes now exist closer to Williams Lake. Some members continue to collect breeding data in June, but most prefer to clean, repair, and replace nest boxes in readiness for the spring migration. On the routes where data is collected, Tree Swallows continue to out-number Mountain Bluebirds, but both species are breeding successfully.
Occasionally, both Black-Capped and Mountain Chickadees build nests in a few boxes. Unlike in 1978 when 253/474 boxes remained empty, today almost every box is occupied. As for the grasshoppers, spraying no longer appears to be an issue. If you are a member of the Williams Lake Field Naturalists and would like to get involved in the Mountain Bluebird Program, contact Loyd Csizmadia at email@example.com. Currently, there is a waiting list for routes, but volunteers may be needed to build nest boxes.