Foam Lake Birding No. 42

No. 42
My intention was to write about parrots, but I am home as of this writing and felt compelled to write about something else. The parrots will have to wait until next year. Instead, I am going to write about sightings of very rare birds – confirmed sightings that never should have happened. I will be dealing with three birds that never should have been where they were observed. This week’s article will have two photos – the Bridled Titmouse and the Black Throated Magpie Jay. I do not have a picture of the Painted Bunting.
The Black Throated Magpie Jay is a non-migratory resident of southwestern Mexico. It never comes near the US border. Yet, here it was in southern Texas about 1500km out of its range and on the wrong side of the continent. How did it get there? Birders are unanimous in believing that the jay was a caged bird that escaped or was released. Not only is this jay non-migratory, but it is a social bird that lives in family groups. There is no chance that a solitary jay would make a long flight like that.
The Magpie Jay is a handsome bird that really does closely resemble our Magpie in size and shape – hence the name. The jay is considerably larger with an overall length well beyond two feet; our Magpie’s overall length is well below two feet. However, in observing this jay, I could not make this distinction. When perched, the jay has a noticeable crest; the Magpie does not. In flight, a Magpie’s tail feathers move with the body. There is no noticeable tail movement. On the other hand, the jay’s tail feathers are quite flexible and flutter as the bird flies – much like holding a streamer outside a moving car window.
The next two birds, whose ranges are limited to the southern US, have recently been observed in Saskatchewan.
A few years ago, the sighting of a Painted Bunting (the first in Canada) made the local TV news. I remember a radio interview with a woman from Kelvington who had seen the bunting. As I recall, she did not report it at first for fear of ridicule, however, after hearing of sightings further south, she decided to report hers.
The sparrow sized Painted Bunting is considered to be North America’s most gaudily coloured bird complete with red, blue, green and yellow. Other people consider it North America’s most beautiful bird. I have never seen one, so I do not have an opinion on that topic. For a more detailed description, check with your (or anybody else’s) bird book. It is only moderately migratory with its northern limits in southern Kansas.
Similarly, the Bridled Titmouse caused quite a stir in the birding community when it was observed in Moose Mountain Provincial Park near Kenosee. This little, non-migratory “crested chickadee” is a resident of southern Arizona and New Mexico only. It is a grayish bird with a whitish face and striking black facial patterns that look like a bridle – hence its name. However, it was about 3000km out of its range! One birder who reported the event stated, “It had a lot of help getting here”. The same could probably be said of the Painted Bunting.
Unfortunately, we can never be sure of why or how the birds got here, unless the culprits own up to it – which is highly unlikely. Even though these very real sightings do not count as official sightings, it is still nice to see a strange bird in somewhat of a natural habitat behaving naturally, rather than in a cage.