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HomeGeneralEastern US Residents Spot Rare Red-Flanked Bluetail Bird for the First Time

Eastern US Residents Spot Rare Red-Flanked Bluetail Bird for the First Time

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A picture of a Blue-tail bird.
Source: TaiwanBirding/Twitter

Harry Riker did not realize he was looking at an exceptionally rare bird. He spotted the gray bird outside his home with its blue tail and yellow sides.

At 69, Riker spends considerable time bird-watching the feeders outside his Whiting, New Jersey home. Despite his expertise, he couldn’t identify a rare bird that landed in his yard on December 5, even after using a popular birding app.

“I posted on Facebook (to a local bird-watching community) and asked for help,” Riker recalled.

However, a group member identified the bird as a red-flanked bluetail. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, these birds typically inhabit northern Europe and Asia.

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A few individuals in the U.S. have confirmed sightings of the bird. According to Jenna Curtis, a bird expert for Cornell’s eBird.org website, all of these reports were in the country’s western half.

Since the red-flanked bluetail’s appearance outside Riker’s house, bird lovers all over have flocked to his community to catch a glimpse.

“These birders are all over the neighborhood,” he said. “The neighbors seem to love it. We’re all retired, and we’re really enjoying it. This is good excitement.”

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Curtis confirmed Riker’s photograph is “the first-ever confirmed red-flanked bluetail in the eastern U.S.” The bird sighting as far east as New Jersey is an “unprecedented occurrence,” according to Curtis.

“The next nearest report was a bird in Laramie, Wyoming, in November 2019,” Curtis said. Additionally, Red-flanked bluetails are known for their colorful plumage.

Males may have shimmering blue feathers, orange sides, and a small white “eyebrow.” Females and juveniles, as per eBird.org, typically have tan bodies with subdued blue coloring.

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The breeding range of the East Asian songbird has steadily expanded over the past century. However, its presence in the eastern U.S. has puzzled Cornell experts.

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More than 130 other sightings from Ocean County have been submitted to eBird.org since Riker spotted the bird in his backyard, according to Curtis.

“They currently breed as far west as Finland and winter in China and Japan,” Curtis said.

Additionally, scientists believe a small number of the birds may have migrated to the western U.S. after crossing the Bering Strait into Alaska. 

“I don’t know whether the bird in New Jersey … just kept traveling east (from the West Coast), or whether it traveled westward from Europe, perhaps carried by strong winds or a major storm,” Curtis said. “I think it is unlikely that this bird arrived via shipping container.”

The American Birding Association suggests it may be impossible to determine the bird’s direction in Riker’s yard. The species is a rare but increasing vagrant to western Europe, with several records in Iceland, including two earlier this fall.

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