Amazing birdwatching find: Minnesota’s first roseate spoonbill

The bird (right) reported on Sunday, Aug. 26 was viewable from a boardwalk at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington.

I had just wrapped up leading a ranger tour when I paused for a break and scanned Facebook. My friend Alex Sundvall had just returned from an epic two-week birding trip out west. He’d been uploading photos and video from the trip and they were fun to view.

I noticed he posted a video of a roseate spoonbill, a crazy-looking bird that resembles a small pink egret with a greenish spoon-shaped bill. I wondered where he’d gotten video of one because he didn’t travel to the states where you would find one like Florida, Louisiana, or the South Padre area of Texas. Then I realized – he was live-streaming this video from Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, Minn.

The final 90 minutes of work dragged on, but I finally left the visitor center. I called my husband and told him not to expect me for dinner. I changed into my civilian clothing, grabbed my bins and scope, and cruised to Bloomington. The road to the refuge was ripped up due to some utility work and I could park in the lot. I used a nearby neighborhood that added 15 minutes to my walk to the bird, but I passed dozens of birders who all excitedly announced, “It’s still there!”

Roseate spoonbills are usually found along the Gulf Coast. This is an image of a bird breeding at an alligator farm in Florida.

Rare birds have wings and it’s not out of the question for your target bird to take off 10 seconds before you arrive. But lo and behold the bird stayed and I watched it for an hour and caught up with some birding friends who were also checking it out. I left and became one of the smug birders announcing to others just arriving, “It’s still there!”

I followed the reports for the rest of the evening and learned that the spoonbill flew away just after 8 p.m., and almost 24 hours later has not been rediscovered. If this turns out to be a wild bird, then it will be Minnesota’s 444th species.

So many questions:

Is this a wild bird or a zoo escapee? There have been quite a few reports of spoonbills in the eastern United States. There’s precedence for an irruption going on – there are spoonbill reports from Iowa, Ohio, and Indiana.

How far north will this one go? Nobody knows. Will it be in Duluth by the weekend?

Why are there so many birds far from the Gulf of Mexico, where you would normally see them? Could it be the red tide plaguing the gulf, pushing birds north in search of food? We don’t know for sure what’s happening.

So as you are passing marshes and shallow ponds with lots of egrets, take a second look to make sure some of them aren’t pink. Maybe you’ll find a Midwest roseate spoonbill, too.

Categories: Sharon Stiteler

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