Taking the Long View: An inside look at the goings-on at the longest running avian ecology field station west of the Mississippi.


Palomarin banding intern Mary Kate Lisi safely holds the male Western Bluebird caught on May 8th, 2020. Photo by Mark Dettling.

Today at our Palomarin Field Station we caught an adult male Western Bluebird. That in itself is something to celebrate. They are gorgeous. But there is a special story behind this particular guy.

We don’t catch adult Western Bluebirds very often at Palomarin, in fact this is only the tenth capture from the past 20 years. The last capture was in 2015 and that was the same individual that we captured today! We know this because it had a uniquely numbered metal band on its leg that we put on in 2015 as part of our long-term studies monitoring bird populations here at the field station in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

The individual male Western Bluebird we have tracked at the Palomarin Field Station. Photos by Mark Dettling and Hannah Conley.

In 2015, we determined that this bird was in its second year of life, so with today’s capture we know that this individual is 6 years old. The oldest known Western Bluebird was 8 years 8 months old, so this one is getting up there!

To add to the story, we have a few nest boxes around the station that we monitor and for the past several years one of them has been occupied by a Western Bluebird pair. Earlier this spring we saw that the male had a band on its leg, so the bird we captured today is most likely that male. We suspect that this male has been nesting here for the past 6 seasons. They’ve been fairly successful, in fact we banded their nestlings just a couple weeks ago and we expect them to fledge any day now.

Western Bluebird nestling being safely banded at the Palomarin Field Station. Photo by Mary Kate Lisi.

The bird banding and nest searching programs at Palomarin give us important population information like survivorship (how many birds are surviving from year to year) and productivity (how many young birds are fledged each year) that are critical to determining the health of bird community in this area.

Happy Friday and we hope you enjoy this special event and story as much as we are today. Want to learn more about our work at Palomarin? Visit this section of our Keystone Datasets page.

This blog entry was written by Point Blue Avian Ecologist and Palomarin Intern Supervisor Mark Dettling.

Striking blue wing, back, and tail of the male Western Bluebird we captured today. Looking for differences in color and wear (molt limits) in birds helps us determine age. Photo by Mark Dettling.