First glimpse of red-winged blackbird for Orkney birdspotters

A rare Red Winged Blackbird. Picture: contributed.
A rare Red Winged Blackbird. Picture: contributed.
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Birdwatchers have travelled to Orkney from as far afield as Devon to catch a glimpse of a species that has never before been recorded in Europe.

The red-winged blackbird is common in North America and is thought a combination of the peak spring migration and strong winds over the Atlantic could be responsible for the bird landing in North Ronaldsay.

The island’s bird observatory said once found, the bird quickly settled into a routine of flying between a bed of irises and some gas canisters

Adam Wilson, who travelled from Devon to Kirkwall airport to catch a specially 
chartered flight to North 
Ronaldsay, told BBC Radio Orkney it was “a unique opportunity”.

“There’s never been this opportunity before. There might never be this opportunity again. So you take it while it’s there.

“When you go abroad and see birds, there’s loads of them and you get a bit blasé . When you get one, and your main focus is that, you learn more from studying that bird than you would if you saw it abroad.”

Mr Wilson said other North American birds had recently arrived in the Northern Isles.

He said: “Just a week or two ago, there was a hermit thrush turned up in Shetland, which is also from North America.

“That gives credence to this bird being a wild bird.”

He said it was “exciting” to be heading off, hoping to add the bird to his “tick” list.

“You’re never certain that you’re actually going to see it. I mean, it’s there. But it might not be there when we get there.

“So, I see it as a nice day out. And if we see it, it’ll be a bonus.”

The red-winged blackbird breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and Guatemala, with isolated populations in western El Salvador, northwestern Honduras, and northwestern Costa Rica.

It may winter as far north as Pennsylvania and British Columbia, but northern populations are generally migratory, moving south to Mexico and the southern United States.

Claims have been made that it is the most abundant living land bird in North America, as bird-counting censuses of wintering red-winged blackbirds sometimes show that loose flocks can number in an excess of a million birds per flock and the full number of breeding pairs across North and Central America may exceed 250 million in peak years.

The male is all black with a red shoulder and yellow wing bar, while the female is a nondescript dark brown.

Seeds and insects make up the bulk of the red-winged blackbird’s diet.