Rare birds, also known as “rarities”, can pop-up when you least expect it. For those that use eBird, having a bird flagged as “rare” can be exciting!
Rare birds are birds that are considered to be outside of their range, or expected geographical region.
Rare birds like this Dovekie can show up when you least expect it and they can depart as quickly as they arrive. After all, they do have wings!
Irruption years are when one, or several, species of bird extend beyond their typical geographic location. (Not individual birds, but many of the same species.)
For example, last year, was an irruption year for Red-breasted Nuthatches. This year Rough-legged Hawks and Snowy Owls are the birds that all the birders are chasing! You can learn more about Snowy Owl irruption years via Project SNOW Storm.
Irruption years are typically driven by food, but there are also other factors which continue to be explored by researchers.
The Eurasian Wigeon, in the picture below, was photographed in Maryland. It’s an uncommon bird to find in Maryland because it’s range is largely in Europe with migratory routes through Asia and Africa.
However, it has been found on occasion in parts of North America, especially during wintertime and in the Eastern states.
What to Do If You Find a Rare Bird?
Get a photo! Even if it’s a bad one. Just get enough detail to determine general impression, size, and shape. More about that here. Snap a photo (and not to the detriment of the bird) and write down everything, immediately.
If you can, take video footage. If the bird is vocalizing this will also help with the ID even if the images aren’t great.
Field notes should never be underestimated. Once you have everything written down and your media, work carefully on identifying the bird. There are several ways to do this if you’re uncertain. Use your resources: a field guide, an app, a Facebook group, and/or contact another birder.
Want to learn more about rare birds and find out what the fuss is all about? I highly recommend the American Birding Association’s Facebook Group ABA Rare Bird Alert.
Read more about my recent encounters with uncommon and rare birds, here.