An exotic west-coast oriole discovered marooned in Pakenham, Ont., last fall has been rescued from the freezing temperatures — by the same man who first discovered her.
Ray Holland, an avid birdwatcher who lives near Pakenham, just west of Ottawa, has been keeping a protective eye on the female Bullock's oriole ever since he first discovered the visitor near his home in November.
When she refused to head south as temperatures dropped, Holland became worried.
"When it went to – 27 with the windchill factor, I figured there's no way [she will survive]," he said.
On Monday he spotted the thin bird sheltering in the relative warmth under a residential gas metre adjacent to a house on Dalkeith Street.
The next morning, fearful the bird wouldn't survive the cold, he returned to find the Bullock's oriole lying in the snow under a nearby tree.
"I thought it was dead to begin with, until it made one wing movement and tried to stand and fell over again. So, I just did what anybody would do: grabbed it," he said.
Bullock's oriole drew crowds
Holland estimated that over the past five weeks, about 300 birdwatchers flocked to the area around an apple tree to catch a rare glimpse of the bird.
Bird writer and columnist Bruce Di Labio said this sighting is the first-ever confirmed in the 50-kilometre radius around Parliament Hill.
With contrasting orange and black plumage, a black throat patch and a white wing bar, the bird resembles the better-known Baltimore oriole. The Bullock's oriole's normal range is the American West Coast and southward to Mexico.
Holland kept the bird in a box lined with warm felt and cloth, and called Di Labio for help.
Di Labio kept the oriole overnight, feeding it a mixture of mashed banana and peanuts, before bringing it to the Wild Bird Care Centre on Moodie Drive in the Bells Corners neighbourhood.
Bird likely frostbitten
Staff at the centre are now monitoring their new celebrity visitor, said Patty McLaughlin.
"The only thing we're keeping track of are her little toes — she's missing a toenail on one foot, which is likely frostbite, so we'll monitor the colour and condition, and she's on antibiotics, just in case," McLaughlin said.
The Bullock's oriole normally eats fruit and this one appears to have survived by pecking away at the fruit of an apple tree. When the temperatures dropped well below 0 C, that food source became impossible to tap.
"She's certainly enjoying the grapes that we're giving her, oranges she's liking, and she's liking crickets and mealworms, which is great — high protein," McLaughlin said.
The crickets and mealworms will also help the 27-gram bird build back up to the breed's average weight of 36 grams, she said.
McLaughlin said the bird will spend the winter at the centre and be released in the spring.
Volunteers expect to help about 160 injured birds this winter.