Date: June 1, 2017
Source: University of Faculty of Science British Columbia
Zoologists have documented the first record of a House Swift in the Americas -- and begun to unravel the mystery of how the tiny bird got from its south-east Asia breeding grounds to Ladner, BC.
The bird's well preserved but near-emaciated carcass was discovered in May 2012 near the Deltaport container terminal, just 40 metres from the Pacific Ocean.
"Like some marathon runners, I think this fellow finally saw land and just crashed, exhausted, at the finish line," says Ildiko Szabo, a curator at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum and forensic ornithologist at the University of British Columbia (UBC) who led the identification of the specimen.
"These birds are amazing fliers and can stay airborne for months at a time, but there wouldn't have been enough insect prey to sustain him properly over the mid-Pacific. The mystery is what sent him so far off course."
In a paper published in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, Szabo and co-authors, including UBC researcher Darren Irwin, propose that either a storm set the bird off course, or even more likely, his internal navigation 'compass' malfunctioned.
"Our initial reaction was skepticism that this would be such an unusual species," says Irwin, who studies how new bird species arise. "But by combining a review of the bird's characteristics with DNA testing, we were able to confirm that this was indeed a House Swift from Asia, making this an exceptional case of vagrancy."