New Brunswick

Rare spoonbill found dead in farmer's field

A farmer in Sussex came across some startling remains while cutting hay in one of his fields last weekend. 

The pink bird has never been seen in New Brunswick before

The carcass of a roseate spoonbill was found in a Sussex field last weekend. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

A farmer in Sussex came across some startling remains while haying one of his fields last weekend. 

He thought he had run over a chicken with his hay mower, but it turns out it was a large bird, and a type never been found in New Brunswick before. 

Roseate spoonbills are common birds in Central America and on the Gulf Coast of the United States, but this one was first seen wandering in a parking lot in Sussex before turning up dead in the farmer's field. 

"The bird has obviously flown a long way to get here," said Jim Wilson, a naturalist and avid birder. 

The roseate spoonbill had been spotted alive in a Sussex parking lot on June 14. Naturalist Jim Wilson says we was easily able to identify the species by the photos sent to him. (Joelle Toomey/Facebook)

Wilson had been alerted to the spoonbill spotting on June 14 thanks to photos sent to him by Joelle Toomey of Sussex. 

"When it touched down in Sussex, it's really difficult to know how far it's come, or why it would have landed in that particular parking lot in Sussex," said Wilson.

"So, obviously it was probably pretty tired, so maybe it didn't have a lot of gas left in its tank, so to speak. And perhaps couldn't find an appropriate feeding spot." 

The roseate spoonbill, commonly found in Central America, was seen in Sussex last week. 2:14

Roseate spoonbills are distinctive for their bright pink and red feathers along with their long spoon-shaped bills. Wilson said this one appears to be a juvenile that was likely searching for new territory but unfortunately was ill-suited for the area.

The bird's carcass showed signs of decay, so Wilson said it had died in the field before the farmer unknowingly ran over it with his farm equipment.

Avid birder and naturalist Jim Wilson says this is the first time a roseate spoonbill has been documented in New Brunswick. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Wilson said there were no signs of a band on its leg, clipped wings or worn feet or toes that are normally indications that a bird of this type came from captivity or was an escaped pet. 

His best guess is the bird flew from the southern U.S. 

"It presumably came probably from the Floridian population because they nest from November through January," said Wilson. "The Texas population is more later in the spring." 

The roseate spoonbill gets its name from its pink and red feathers and its long spoon-shaped beak, both of which were found with the carcass in a Sussex field. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"It's a very sad ending, but it's a fine example of how birds either extend their range successfully, or attempt to extend their range and don't. This is all part of evolution." 

Wilson said some individuals of several species will strike out for places far from their typical environment in hopes of starting a new population elsewhere. 

Wilson said this bird could very well have been a "founder" or "pioneer" individual that could have been attempting to start a new northern population, but ultimately failed, as often is the case in nature. 

New home at museum 

The mangled carcass of the roseate spoonbill is now being kept at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, under the care of the head of zoology Donald McAlpine. 

"We'll save the one wing that we have here, we'll save any skeletal material, the head. We've got the tail. We've got one leg. So we'll save whatever we can." 

The remains of the spoonbill are now under the care of Donald McAlpine, the zoology curator at the New Brunswick Museum. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Although the bird's remains appear to be in rough shape, McAlpine said they're a great sample of biological material, enough to perhaps tell part of the bird's origins. 

"It may be possible with genetics to tell where the bird came from," said McAlpine. "And stable isotopes might give us information on its migratory movements."

About the Author

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.

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