New Brunswick

'It doesn't get any rarer than this': Mistle thrush could be continent's first

A "mega-rarity" bird blew into Miramichi over the weekend, and it's attracting bird lovers from Eastern Canada and the U.S. who've never seen one in North America before.

Bird watchers converge on Miramichi after mistle thrush lands on resident's lawn

This mistle thrush has been a hot topic for bird lovers from the Maritimes and the United States. (Alain Clavette)

A "mega-rarity" bird blew into Miramichi over the weekend, and it's attracting bird lovers from across Eastern Canada and the U.S. who've never seen one in North America before.

Peter Gadd said a European mistle thrush landed near a mountain ash tree on his lawn and has been drawing crowds ever since.

"I saw a bird and thought, 'OK, that's a little different,'" said Gadd, who spotted the bird on Saturday.

Gadd and his wife, Deana, have been active birders for more than four years.

After spotting the bird and carefully studying its features, Gadd tried to find something similar in one of his several North American bird books.

Nothing seemed to match.

So he sent photos to bird experts, who quickly recognized the rare bird.

"It doesn't get any rarer than this," said Jim Wilson, a New Brunswick-based birder and naturalist, who visited the Gadd residence.

The bird has been feeding on the berries from the tree in Gadd's yard and comes and goes as it pleases.

"This is the very first time a mistle thrush has ever been seen and recorded in North America … it will draw people from all over the continent to come and see it if it hangs around," said Wilson.

A mistle thrush landed on a Miramichi lawn over the weekend and has been feeding on nearby berries. (Peter Gadd)

The bird is widespread in Europe and has also been found in Iceland.  This one was likely brought to the East Coast by heavy winds and separated from its flock, Wilson said.

"It's really quite amazing how far these migratory birds can fly in a single flight," he said.    

"It's a long way from home."

The bird is about the size of a robin and has a brown-greyish back with pale underparts. It also has dark spots on its breast from the throat to its belly. The eyes are large, which keeps the animal alert. 

"It basically looks like a washed-out robin," said Wilson.

What happens next?

Gadd said he hopes the bird will survive and remain in the area throughout the winter.

"Once it finds a food source it will aggressively protect it," Gadd said. "If it does do that with our mountain ash (tree) it could be here for some time."

Gadd said he even has raspberries, blueberries and plums on hand if it runs out of berries from the mountain ash tree. 

As long as the bird can get a regular supply of food, it will likely survive.

Species of thrushes are often described as "hardy birds," Wilson said.

For the birders

Wilson said people all over Canada and the U.S. are heading to northern New Brunswick, including a birder who's flying to the area from Michigan and a couple driving up from Boston.

"There was a birder here yesterday who said he would like to have a week in this area to see if there are other birds … that may have come over in the same system," said Gadd.

Deana and Peter Gadd say crowds haven't stopped since they reported the rare mistle thrush on their property. (Peter Gadd)

Wilson said it's important observers make sure the bird isn't too disturbed.

People should also be respectful of the neighbourhood, he said. They should park somewhere close to the site, walk quietly to the address and stay on the street, rather than lingering on the property. 

"Hopefully, the welfare of the bird will always be at the forefront of everybody's mind," said Wilson.

Gadd said people have their binoculars, scopes and cameras ready just to get a glimpse. His wife has even brought out hand warmers for those standing outside for long periods of time.

"This little bird has no idea how popular it is," said Wilson.