Montreal birdwatchers treated to rare sight in city's Technoparc

Usually found in southern U.S., there have been maybe 20 recorded sightings in the province of Quebec and none before in Montreal. But there it was, flitting around in St-Laurent borough’s Technoparc.

1st scissor-tailed flycatcher sighting recorded in Montreal, avian behavioural specialist says

The scissor-tailed flycatcher is sometimes called the Texas bird-of-paradise, and is recognizable by its long tail. (Submitted by Lory Cantin)

About two weeks ago on a chilly Saturday morning, Joël Coutu was birdwatching in Montreal with some friends when they spotted something they've never seen before.

"We got closer, and I knew right away we were looking at a rare bird," he said.

Coutu is an avian behavioural specialist, and working on a five-person team, they identified the bird as a scissor-tailed flycatcher. 

Usually found in southern U.S., Coutu said there have been maybe 20 recorded sightings in the province of Quebec and none before in Montreal. But there it was, flitting around in St-Laurent borough's Technoparc.

For years, birdwatchers have flocked to the stretch of green space between highways 40 and 20 to practise their hobby, but when word got out that the scissor-tailed flycatcher was in the area: "At one point there were like a hundred cars parked there and it wasn't to watch the planes, it was to watch him," said Coutu.

"He's a very popular guy."

Coutu told CBC's Let's Go that he named the bird Edward Scissorhands. But it appears Mr. Scissorhands is lost, as normally these flycatchers live in areas like Texas and head south to Mexico or Central America for the winter.

"Some birds will get off route," said Coutu, and the bird may think it's in the right place. "Unfortunately, this little flycatcher is going to find it very hard to survive over the next few weeks."

Coutu said birds will travel with the winds, and when they are migrating they prefer northern winds. In the spring, it's the opposite. But the mild weather, uptick in strong storms and natural disasters will have an impact on birds.

"I think we will be seeing more and more of southern birds appearing from southern states in the future," he said.

Bird not likely to survive winter

As a birder, Coutu said it's exciting to see a rare bird. In the morning, when it was cold and there were no insects, the flycatcher wasn't very active. But when it warmed up, birdwatchers were treated to a show as the bird began showing off its feathers and seeking out food.

Coutu said the bird will not likely survive once the cold weather sets in and there are no more insects to eat.

Avian behavioural specialist Joël Coutu tells Sabrina about the scissor-tailed flycatcher, usually found in the Southern U.S., one of which is currently in the Technoparc Montréal. 10:15

Saving the bird would take a lot of time, money and effort, Coutu said. And then there is the question of shipping the bird, he said. 

Small birds like this are fragile, he said. The flycatcher likely wouldn't survive being caught and transported, he said. If it was an endangered animal, there might be more effort to save the bird, Coutu said.

It's not uncommon for birds to get lost, he said.

"Lost birds happen everywhere in North America," he said. "This is something that happens all the time."

with files from CBC Montreal's Let's Go


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