A large, white-feathered bird — a great egret — flew in last week to the western Hudson Bay community of Rankin Inlet, where it’s since been seen feasting on sticklebacks in a marshy pond.
Egrets are more usually spotted in the Everglades or on the Pacific coast, so the presence of this egret immediately attracted local photographers, including Bernice Sandy, who took many photos of the unusual bird.
After hearing from others about the egret by the Rankin Inlet Healing Facility, Sandy said she headed out herself to find and photograph the bird. It took her two days to locate the egret, which she photographed on her cellphone’s camera Oct. 17 and Oct. 18.
Viewing Sandy’s photos of this egret, Eric Reed of Environment and Climate Change Canada in Yellowknife told CBC News, “it’s a very exciting sighting.”
“It’s not completely unheard of, but it’s very, very rare,” he said.
Accidental visitors or vagrants
In 2017, an egret ended up in Inuvik, also in October.
When birds like these egrets are spotted outside their ranges, they’re called accidental visitors or vagrants.
Reed said egrets belong to a species which breeds much further south than the Arctic.
The breeding range for egrets in North America is centred around the United States and even the middle and southern parts of the U.S., he said.
But the egrets, particularly juvenile egrets, often head off on their own after the end of the breeding season.
“Some of them will undertake really long northwards or westwards or eastward migrations, you know, not directly related to migration towards the wintering grounds,” Reed said.
“They’re going in checking out new territories and then as the weather cools and changes, they’ll come back.”
Reed said Rankin Inlet’s egret was probably following a waterway or pushed north by winds.
“Hopefully it flies back south when the weather cools off a little bit. It has been a warm fall. You know, if everything was frozen over, we wouldn’t be seeing that,” Reed said.
Yousif Attia, an expert birder and specialist with Birds Canada, suggested northerners who see unusual birds enter their sighting on citizen science programs.
On eBird, anyone can sign on, enter their bird sightings and upload photos and sound recordings.
“This information can be used by researchers, conservationists and other birders to help understand changes in abundance,” Attia said.
Other unusual birds sighted within the last year in Nunavut include pelicans, barn swallows, an American coot, and blue jays.