CAMP HILL, Pa. (WHTM)- Bird enthusiasts are enjoying a rare visit from a species not documented in Pennsylvania since the late 1960’s.
Since Saturday, several avid birders have seen and photographed Roseate Spoonbills along the Susquehanna River and Conodoguinet Creek. The birds which have a typical home range including the warmer southern states of Florida, Louisiana and Texas as well as Mexico, are white with vibrant pink coloring on their feathers. The pink pigment is a result of their typical diet of shrimp, small fish and other crustaceans, which are filtered from the water using their adapted spoon-like bill.
On Saturday, a lone Spoonbill was spotted along the Conejohela Flats section of the Susquehanna River near Washington Borough, Lancaster County. Friends, Mike Epler and Zach Millen were first to see and photograph the bird in the early morning hours, and alert other birders. According to Millen, the bird was seen throughout the weekend roosting near a group of great egrets near the Washington Borough Park, while occasionally returning to the water to feed. The last sighting of the bird in Lancaster County was reported on Sunday.
What is believed to be a second roseate spoonbill was seen and photographed by kayakers in the Conodoguinet Creek along Lamp Post Lane near Camp Hill on Saturday. While birders flocked to the area on Sunday in hopes of another sighting, the bird was not seen again until Monday afternoon, where it was feeding and resting alongside a group of Canada geese. The bird eventually flew away.
While it is unknown why the spoonbills are in Pennsylvania, birders say it is not uncommon for other southern bird species to make brief visits. The spoonbills are believed to be young birds, considered subadults, and could be the result of an especially successful breeding season, testing the limits of their home range. Additionally, the birds could simply be lost or were driven into the area by some natural or unnatural disturbance in their food source. Ideally, the spoonbills will realize quickly that Pennsylvania waters do not contain an abundance of their preferred diet before they become weak, succumb to cold weather or the shallow waters they frequent freeze.
According to the book The Birds of Pennsylvania by Gerald McWilliams and Dan Brauning, there are only two known prior records of Roseate Spoonbill sightings. One bird was shot in Lancaster around 1844, and the specimen is at the North Museum. A dying bird was found in Erie County in May of 1968, and it died quickly at the Glenwood Zoo during an attempted rehabilitation. This specimen exists in a private collection today.