Roseate spoon­bill shows up at park in Fred­er­icks­burg

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - LOCAL PERSPECTIVES - BY CATHY JETT

FRED­ER­ICKS­BURG — A large, Neotrop­i­cal bird with a swath of flamin­gopink feath­ers on its wings and a dis­tinc­tive, spoon­shaped bill made a rare ap­pear­ance in Fred­er­icks­burg last week, set­ting lo­cal bird­ers’ hearts aflut­ter.

The roseate spoon­bill, whose nor­mal stomp­ing grounds in the U.S. are coastal Florida, Texas and south­west Louisiana, was spot­ted Mon­day and Tues­day wad­ing in silty brown wa­ter that the swollen Rap­pa­han­nock River had sent flow­ing into Old Mill Park’s play­ground.

“It’s pretty ex­cit­ing for us bird­ing peo­ple,” said Univer­sity of Mary Washington bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor An­drew Dolby on Mon­day after­noon. “A cou­ple of my friends con­tacted me about an hour ago.”

He said that as far as he knew, the bird’s ap­pear­ance down­town was the only sight­ing in Fred­er­icks­burg within the last few decades. He said a hand­ful have been seen in the Nor­folk area, Way­nes­boro and in a cou­ple of spots along the James River in Rich­mond.

“They’ve even shown up in stranger places than Fred­er­icks­burg,” Dolby said. “In 1992, one was found in New York, on Staten Is­land.”

Roseate spoon­bills are wide­spread in Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, with a range that ex­tends to Ar­gentina. They were com­mon in parts of the south­east­ern U.S. un­til the 1860s, when they were nearly wiped out by hunters killing them for their flam­boy­ant plumage, ac­cord­ing to audubon.org.

The species be­gan re­col­o­niz­ing in Texas and Florida in the early 20th cen­tury. To­day, they’re most of­ten found wad­ing in shal­low, muddy wa­ter along the coasts of those two states, as well as Louisiana.

Some mi­grate south from Texas to Mex­ico or from Florida to Cuba dur­ing the win­ter. A few, mostly im­ma­ture birds, have been known to stray north af­ter breed­ing sea­son.

The one that showed up at Old Mill Park ap­pears to be a ju­ve­nile. It’s paler pink than an adult would be, and still has feath­ers on its head. Adults have a bare, yel­low­ish-green head, one rea­son audubon.org de­scribes them as “gor­geous at a dis­tance and bizarre up close.”

Roseate spoon­bills’ other dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture is their wide, flat bill, which they swing from side to side as they feed in shal­low wa­ters. They use it to shift muck in their search for small fish, crabs, aquatic in­sects and other prey.

Bird­ers be­gan post­ing sight­ings of a roseate spoon­bill at Back Bay Na­tional Wildlife Refuge in Vir­ginia Beach to ebird. org’s Vir­ginia Rare Bird Alert on May 31. There were no other sight­ings un­til Mon­day, when four peo­ple posted that they’d seen the bird at Old Mill Park. There were three more post­ings of sight­ings in the same area Tues­day morn­ing.

Dolby said the roseate spoon­bill spot­ted here would be clas­si­fied as an ac­ci­den­tal, or va­grant, species for this area, and added that strong weather sys­tems can some­times move birds out of their nor­mal range. He added that the one at Old Mill Park could hang around for a day or two, as long as there’s stand­ing wa­ter.

Sight­ings of the species could be­come a lit­tle more com­mon in the decades ahead. Audubon. org’s cli­mate model pre­dicts that some of its sum­mer range could de­cline in the South, while new ar­eas open in the North. Its interactive map, avail­able at cli­mate.audubon.org/ birds/rosspo1/roseate­spoon­bill, shows it reach­ing Tide­wa­ter Vir­ginia by 2080.

PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR

A roseate spoon­bill waded through flood­wa­ters at Old Mill Park in down­town Fred­er­icks­burg on Mon­day.

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