The American birding community was in a frenzy recently when a mega-rarity showed up right here in Pennsylvania! The bird is a Black-backed Oriole, a species so rare to the United States that it's not listed in any of the field guides in my classroom! This species is endemic to central Mexico, meaning it is only found in that region of the world. You can see through their eBird species map where they predominately occur. It's mind-boggling that this bird showed up at a feeder in someone's yard in Sinking Spring, PA!
So if this bird is so far outside of it's native range, how did it get here? No one knows for sure, but there has been and will be lots of debate on this one! The only other record of this species outside of its range was first observed in southern California in 2000, but that bird was believed to be a caged bird that was released (although some seem to disagree with this assessment). This species is a short-distance migrant in Mexico. Since it doesn't migrate far, it getting lost in migration and ending up in Pennsylvania seems pretty hard to believe. However, there are some clues that suggest this possibly being wild. Caged birds usually lack the instinct to survive in the wild since they depend upon humans to feed and care for them, but this bird has been surviving and feeding on its own for quite some time. Also, I've heard other birders discuss that oriole species are not usually kept as pets in cages.
Who knows if we will ever find if this is a wild bird, but it's not impossible that this bird got here on its own. Birding records committee on both a state level and a national level will hand down their verdict sometime in the near future, and the individuals who are on these committees have a lot more experience than I when it comes to making such determinations. All I can do is offer my speculation!
This bird is a huge deal! When we arrived that morning, there was a massive crowd to see it! By the end of the first weekend of it in town, over 700 people had shown up to see it. Students love to ask me about the rarest bird I've ever seen. Well folks, this is it!
This bird is such a big deal, it ended up on the news! Check out Fox 29's story on the bird here:
After we had the Black-backed Oriole in Sinking Spring, we had a lead on another rare oriole species in PA not too far away! We hopped in the car and headed to another bird feeder, this time in Lititz, PA, to see a first-year male Bullock's Oriole. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the homeowners and shortly thereafter, the bird!
You can see this species has scattered records outside of its usual western United States range, but this bird is still quite the rarity here in Pennsylvania! This was actually not the first time I've seen a Bullock's Oriole in Pennsylvania. My first and only other sighting was at a feeder in Gilbertsville, PA in March of 2015.
Our native orioles, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, spend their winters in the southern United States and Mexico. Pretty amazing to have a double oriole day in February in Pennsylvania!
As we were talking to the homeowners, they tipped us off to a Great Horned Owl nest nearby. So we continued our day of killer birding to see the nest, which was at eye level right off the road. What a treat to see the female owl on eggs!
After that, we headed to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area to observe Snow Geese and Tundra Swans before calling it quits. By the end of the day, we ended up birding four counties in Pennsylvania with a total of 27 species, including one new life bird for me!
eBird lists from the day: