Birders by the hundreds flocked to a dock in the Twin Cities for a rare look at a roseate spoonbill making the species' first verifiable debut in Minnesota.
The lone roseate spoonbill, native to the Gulf Coast along the shores of Texas, Louisiana and Florida, was the star attraction in Bloomington shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday near the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge over the Minnesota River.
As word spread, hundreds of giddy birders aimed cameras and binoculars at the pinkish and rose-colored bird with the football-shaped body and the especially wide and flat bill.
The Minnesota Ornithologists' Union, which verifies the presence of birds in the state, now lists the roseate spoonbill as its 444th species.
"It was like Woodstock for birders," said Ben Douglas, who's been chasing down birds around the Midwest for the past 15 years. "We just don't have giant pink birds flying around like that. And then when you start throwing 'firsts' around ..."
Fellow birder Sharon Stiteler grabbed her long-lens camera and hustled to the Cedar Avenue Bridge to document the solitary migration and was delighted with her opportunity to witness high-flying history.
"You just don't see something in the Twin Cities metro that looks like it was designed by Dr. Seuss," said Stiteler, aka the "Birdchick," who's been chasing birds for roughly 35 years.
Douglas said he first heard of the presence of the roseate spoonbill — scientific name: platalea ajaja — about 10 a.m. Sunday. It was in the Twin Cities on a Mississippi River sandbar near the Hastings Bridge, he said.
"I was with my wife at a Starbucks in Woodbury and said, 'We've gotta go. Let's get this.' "
Douglas missed the bird there and spent another two hours searching before the birding network led him and a gaggle of others to the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge.
Jim Williams, a birder and freelance writer for the Star Tribune who goes by the pseudonym "Wingnut," said: "There were people parking all over. Police were threatening to tow people."
"Hundreds of people came and went. They came up from Rochester and down from Duluth. This was a big deal."
At about 8 p.m., the bird lifted off to the northeast, and additional sightings have yet to be logged.
Williams said he and his fellow birders are almost certain this specific roseate spoonbill also was spotted and verified earlier this month in Illinois, about 60 miles east of the Mississippi River near St. Louis, and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"The chances of there being three of them this far [from the Gulf Coast] is pretty small." he said. "My guess is we are seeing the same one."
This bird is not long for Minnesota, Williams said, given our inevitable winter. It doesn't even hang around the Gulf in winter, preferring Central and South America.
"These birds are coastal swamp birds," he said. "If it stayed for the winter, it wouldn't survive. It needs open water and sweeps its bill and collects what it eats."
Williams did acknowledge that there was an earlier sighting of a roseate spoonbill many years ago — up near the Canadian border in Roseau. "But that one escaped from the Winnipeg zoo."