Rare Siberian bird found dead in Washington state

September 28, 2016
Burke Museum

This Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) is now part of the Burke Museum's ornithology collection.
Photo: Burke Museum

A rare Asian songbird was far off course last December when it fatally struck a window on Lopez Island in Washington's San Juan Archipelago. It is now part of the Burke Museum’s ornithology collection, and is only the second museum specimen of its kind from the lower 48 states.

The bird, a Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus), typically breeds in the taiga forests of Siberia and migrates to warmer parts of Asia to spend the winter. Strong-flying Asian species like the bluetail occasionally reach North America when their internal compass is off or when they get caught in powerful storms. Even so, most previous bluetail records from the Western Hemisphere are from the outlying Aleutians and Bering Sea islands off western Alaska.

“It seems so unlikely that someone would have recognized it,” said Dave Slager, University of Washington graduate student. “Luckily, a keen-eyed person spotted it dead below a window while it was still fresh and noticed it was something unusual. They also recorded the date and location, and froze the specimen for transport to the Burke Museum.”

Dave Slager, University of Washington graduate student, in the Burke Museum birds collection.
Photo: Burke Museum

Window collisions kill up to one billion birds each year. While it is always unfortunate when birds die due to anthropogenic causes, this bluetail specimen is now being preserved in the Burke Museum research collection where it will be housed indefinitely for scientific study. Museum specimens like this document a snapshot in time and space for a particular organism and can offer many insights about a species' biology, both now and in the future.

Spread wing from the Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) specimen.
Photo: Burke Museum

The Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) was prepared at the Burke Museum and is part of the permanent collection.
Photo: Burke Museum

Note: Please see the Burke Ornithology Services and Policies page for important information about specimen donation.

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