New Yorkers have been flocking to see one of the most spectacular birds in the world over the last few days, as a male painted bunting rested his weary wings in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
The technicolor birds usually breed in the summer in the southeast, making it up as far north as North Carolina. In the winter, they head south to southern Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean. But one somehow ended up in the five boroughs. It’s extremely rare, though it’s happened before.
“We’ve lately had a series of weather systems with strong south-southwest wind patterns, so it can slurp them up in the wrong direction,” says the Geoff LeBaron, director of the National Audubon Society’s annual census of North American birds. “The young birds are the ones that often make that mistake during migration.”
Don’t feel too bad for the bird, says LeBaron. He’s getting plenty of attention, and he’s likely to survive just fine if he decides to stay for the winter. Species that eat bugs or nectar would risk starving if they make that same mistake, but luckily painted buntings eat seeds, a food source that doesn’t disappear in the cold months (and visitors feeding it could help). As for the cold temperatures, that shouldn’t be a big problem–despite being unprepared for the cold, he won’t freeze to death as winter sets in.
Another good sign for Brooklyn’s bird lovers? The painted bunting is getting cozy. LeBaron says the fact that he’s been there for a few days now means he may be settling in to stay–otherwise he’d have moved on by now.
It’s possible that New Yorkers may see more strange birds in the future. While warming temperatures due to climate change are not what lured this bird to try his luck in the big city, LeBaron says that the greater frequency of storms and unusual weather patterns has the effect of sometimes moving birds to the wrong place. So it may be a good time to brush up on that bird guide.