Rustic Buntings in North America
New records for Project FeederWatch
A Eurasian species, Rustic Buntings occasionally wander to North America, but they are almost exclusively seen on the west coast only. Their normal breeding range extends from Scandinavia to northern Siberia, and they typically winter in China or Japan. Prior to this year, no FeederWatch participant had ever reported seeing one at their feeders. This fall, three individual birds have been reported to Project FeederWatch--one in Saskatchewan, far from the west coast, and two in the same yard in Alaska.
A Rustic Bunting in Saskatchewan
Harvey and Brenda Schmidt, of Creighton, Saskatchewan, first discovered four juncos in their yard on December 3, 2009, which is unusual in and of itself for their yard in winter. Traveling with the juncos, Harvey spotted a smaller bird and called his wife over. As Brenda later wrote in a post to her local birding email list she, "was immediately struck by the dark V on the chest, the head pattern, the distinct dark crest, which was raised at the time, the rufous streaking on the sides and the pink in the sharp bill." She went on to say that the bird, "had all the makings of a Rustic Bunting. It had the light spot on the back of the head, the flesh colored legs, the white tail, etc." They started photographing the bird but at that point it was late in the day, and the light was pretty low.
Brenda kept an eye out the window the next morning. Harvey, the photographer of the family, had to work. When Brenda saw the juncos and bunting arrive at 9:30, she called Harvey. He managed to secure time off of work (there was a rare bird in his yard!), rushed home, and started taking pictures. Brenda posted the photos on her blog and sent a message to Bob Luterbach, a prominent Saskatchewan birder, asking him to take a look. He confirmed the identification a few days later. Their bird was the first Rustic Bunting ever confirmed in the Province of Saskatchewan.
Harvey later wrote about the experience: "We've been avid birdwatchers all our lives and have been birding together for more than 20 years. To see a bird in our yard that has not been reported this far inland was surprising to say the least. It didn't take long to realize what we were looking at, but it was hard to believe." In addition to birding together for many years, Harvey and Brenda have been participating in Project FeederWatch since 2006.
As of December 14, the Rustic Bunting was still being seen in their yard, feeding exclusively on the ground. When asked if birders were coming to see their rare visitor, Harvey wrote, "We live in a fairly remote mining community, and it has been extremely cold. So only a few birders have made the journey so far, though many have expressed interest. One came from as far as British Columbia."
Read more details about the bunting visit and see more photos at Brenda's blog,
Alone on a Boreal Stage: a Northern Monologue
Two Rustic Buntings in Alaska
Jerrold Koerner has been a FeederWatch participant for five years, but he has been feeding birds on his property north of Ketchikan, Alaska, since 1986. With 10-12 feeders, he attracts lots of birds, including rarities. In Winter Bird Highlights 2005-06, we featured three rarities that Jerrold saw at his feeders that winter (see page 11)--a Common Grackle, a Tennessee Warbler, and a Nashville Warbler, all in November. The Common Grackle was only the ninth record for Alaska.
On October 24, 2009, Jerrold noticed a bird in his driveway that looked different from the juncos it was associating with. He wrote, "The head pattern reminded me of some Lapland Longspurs that were in our neighborhood earlier, but when I looked at it through my binoculars, I could see that this was a very different bird." Jerrold said that the peaked crest on its head led him to believe the bird was a Rustic Bunting.
Jerrold is retired from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), where he was a salmon research biologist for 25 years, and he has been a birder all of his life. After seeing the bunting, he called two birding friends who work for the ADFG, and they confirmed his identification.
This Eurasian bunting is sometimes seen in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, where it strays over from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, but there are only two other records in southeast Alaska, one from Petersburg and one from Juneau.
"What became the real shocker," according to Jerrold, "was looking out the window on November 11th and seeing two Rustic Buntings side by side in our driveway."
Lots of birders have been visiting the Koerners to see the buntings. Some have come from as far away as Nevada and Texas. Jerrold said that the buntings seem to prefer white millet, which they forage for on the ground. No one has seen the second bunting since November 29, but as of early December, one bunting continues to be seen daily.