Springwater Western Bluebird Trail

One of five oak habitat islands at Springwater Environmental Sciences School

One of five oak habitat islands at Springwater Environmental Sciences School

Congratulations to the students of Springwater Environmental Sciences School for the successful installation of their western bluebird trail. Their hard work, coupled with a grant from the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District, has resulted in greater biodiversity and habitat for a struggling species in our area – the western bluebird.

Kaci Rae Christopher, school garden educator at the charter school, approached the District in October 2016 with a project proposal. They wanted to take advantage of opportunities on this environmental education campus to improve habitat for rare and declining species, including the western bluebird and native pollinators.

Why Target the Western Bluebird?

The western bluebird is listed as a “sensitive” species in the northern Willamette Valley.

The western bluebird is listed as a “sensitive” species in the northern Willamette Valley.

Oak woodlands, savanna, and bluebird habitat have all decreased with the growing human population and the global spread of invasive species. Western bluebirds once thrived in the interspersed clearings and woodlands that dominated the Willamette Valley. (Listen to the western bluebird’s song.)

Bluebirds use holes in snags, dead and dying trees, and wooden fence posts to build their nests. They rely on native berries during the winter such as mistletoe berries growing in vast tracts of oak trees. These natural cavities and food sources have diminished due to production agriculture, forestry practices, residential development, urbanization, and the impact of invasive species (especially house sparrows and starlings). A project such as the one proposed would prove a valuable addition to the area.

Pleased with the value of the project and how it benefits students, the local community, and wildlife habitat, the District chose to grant the requested funds. These funds were specifically used to acquire water features, native plants, and materials for nesting boxes and bird feeders. “I’ve always been happy with the support our students have received from the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District,” notes Christopher. “We rely very heavily on our community to get things done on campus and part of the learning process we share with our students is how to find experts and resources to help us achieve our desired goals.”

Students Learn By Doing

Nesting boxes were installed around the school garden.

Students began their ambitious, year-long project by researching, designing, and establishing five, small oak savanna sites spread across the large school yard. Fifth and sixth grade students installed native plants that attract beneficial insects and support native wildlife. Insect-encouraging plants such as showy milkweed and kinnickkinnick provide a food source for the birds and butterflies.

Seventh and eighth grade students designed, built, and installed western bluebird nesting boxes throughout the five oak savannah sites. These boxes mimic the cavities that western bluebirds prefer to build their nests. Feeders and additional nesting boxes were also installed around the perimeter of the organic school garden. Water features were added to each of the five sites to encourage bird and insect activity.

Seventh and eighth grade students also built an observation board where students and community members can list the various insect and bird species they observe each day. Older students will lead first and second grade students on observation and monitoring activities. The observation board will also be used to post information and to advocate for western bluebirds and other native species.

An Investment in Wildlife, the Community, and the Future

The Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District is proud to support a conservation project that provides such a high-quality learning experience to community members of all ages and hopes to see others work to increase valuable habitat for native wildlife in other areas of Clackamas County. We are also happy to welcome Katherine Globerson, who recently replaced Kaci Rae Christopher as the new school garden educator at Springwater Environmental Sciences School.

For more information about restoring oak savannah in Clackamas County, please read our article: Do You Have Oregon White Oak on Your Property?

Are you looking to improve wildlife habitat in your urban neighborhood? Learn more about the Backyard Habitat Certification Program and its recent expansion into Clackamas County.

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