New Brunswick

Surviving on berries, celebrity mistle thrush settles in for Miramichi winter

More than 350 bird lovers from all around Canada and the United States have converged on Miramichi for a rare glimpse of the European mistle thrush, which has made an unusual decision to make its winter home in New Brunswick.

Miramichi couple with European mistle thrush in their backyard play host to hundreds of birders

A mistle thrush accidentally made a landing in Miramichi last month and has become something of a celebrity. (Peter Gadd)

More than 350 bird lovers from Canada and the United States have descended on Miramichi for a rare glimpse of the European mistle thrush, which appears to be settling into its first Maritime winter.

It's been nearly a month since the "mega-rarity" bird landed in Deana and Peter Gadd's backyard.

Since then, the couple have played host to North America's birding world from 19 states and six provinces, according to Jim Wilson, a New Brunswick-based birder and naturalist.

"It's interesting, because the people who were coming up to the end of December were working on their year list — it's like a collection to see as many birds as they can in a year — and so the big year participants for 2017 had to get there before the end of the year," Wilson told Information Morning Saint John.

"But then there's a whole new crop the first of January in North America. They're going to attempt to see as many as they can in the next year. They've got to get there too, so it's been quite a thing."

Jim Wilson says birders from 19 states and six provinces have descended on Miramichi to see the mistle thrush up close. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

One of the visitors, a Florida woman drove through a snowstorm from Boston to get to Miramichi, because she "thought that was the closest major city," Wilson said.

She ended up seeing more birds than any of her competitors in 2017, beating out her nearest opponent in the big contest by one species.

"But the runner-up also saw the mistle thrush, so it didn't make the difference," Wilson said.

"The bird is great, but it's the people's behaviour I find really fascinating."

Weathering the cold

The bird, which landed near a mountain ash tree on the Gadd property, has been feasting on the berries almost exclusively.

It's a hardy little bird, already demonstrating its resiliency through an intense cold snap over the past couple of weeks.

"It's very wary as well," Wilson said. "It's not taking any chances with the hawks. It's seen to take off when a hawk comes anywhere close.

"It does well on … the mountain ash berries on that tree, and another tree up the street. It shelters in dense foliage between visits, and it's doing quite well through this cold.

"So if it can make it through this, it can make it through the winter. As long as it gets enough food it's pretty tough."

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.

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. 

With files from Information Morning Saint John