HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — State wildlife officials are monitoring reports of Roseate Spoonbills on several Midstate waterways.
Since Saturday, dozens of recreational birders have recorded sightings of the colorful pink, southern birds along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County and Conodoguinet Creek in Cumberland County. The species is common in Florida, Louisiana and Texas, but until now, hadn’t been seen in Pennsylvania since 1968. In both cases, single individuals were recorded at each location.
“The Game Commission continues to follow it with interest,” said Dan Brauning, and Ornithologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Brauning, who says he hasn’t been able to view the visiting birds personally, says he is intrigued with the strange arrival. Still, he says it shouldn’t be considered unnatural or concerning.
“We get rare birds here every year,” says Brauning. “We can typically sum it up to the typical post-breeding dispersal that occurs with migratory species.”
Brauning is referring to the annual flights taken by young, sub-adult wading birds, generally in search of food. Other species like Little Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets breed along the southern Atlantic coast, and make appearances in Pennsylvania where they feed in shallow rivers and creeks during spring and summer before returning to their home range.
While the presence of the Roseate Spoonbill is explainable through the same phenomenon, it is highly unusual. According to the book The Birds of Pennsylvania co-authored by Brauning and Gerald McWilliams, there are only two known prior records of spoonbill sightings. One bird was shot in Lancaster County around 1844, and the specimen is now 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.
While Brauning believes the spoonbills will likely leave as quickly and mysteriously as they arrived, there is a chance they could stay in Pennsylvania for an extended period. However, unless the birds appear to be “severely stressed, such as its flight is impaired,” Brauning says the Game Commission would have no reason for intervening in the birds visit.
According to Game Commission Spokesman Travis Lau, Roseate Spoonbills are considered a “visiting” species, and like other migratory birds are protected federally by the U.S Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
“While they are here, if needed, we would also protect them just like any other species,” added Lau.