Rare Siberian bird found dead in Washington state

Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
September 28, 2016 | 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.”

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.

A spread wing of Red-flanked Bluetail bird
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

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

A view of the notebook containing notes about the Red-flanked Bluetail bird
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

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

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

Our Comment Policy

The Burke Museum encourages interaction, discussion, comments, questions and criticism on articles, but asks that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. All comments will be moderated by the Communications department and will be approved or rejected—typically within 24 hours of posting. Comments that include inappropriate language, slanderous comments about individuals, or appear as “spam” messages for a service/product/site will not be approved.