A couple of years ago there was a Falcated Duck visiting the Colusa Wildlife Refuge in Northern California, way out of its normal range of Russia, China, Mongolia, Japan, and Korea. Of course this got birdwatchers all excited and some came to see the bird from as far away as Florida. Now it’s certainly possible that this is a wild duck that somehow lost its way and ended up in northern California; almost every year across the U.S. there is an unusual sighting – Brown Shrike, Emperor Goose, Snowy Owl, Roseate Tern and as I write this the North American Rare Bird Alert website reports sightings of a Bar-tailed Godwit, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Little Egret, Red-billed Tropicbird, Black-faced Grassquit, Rose-throaated Becaard, and Tufted Flycatcher.
There are 10,000 or so bird species in the world, and they all have their home ranges. The Red-headed Woodpecker is restricted to the eastern United States and the Black-headed Grosbeak to the western U.S. down to Central America. Some, like the American Crow and Bald Eagle, are found pretty much all over the U.S. and Canada. The Blue Jay is primarily an eastern and Midwestern U.S. bird but has been sighted in many places in the west and even has small populations on the northwest coast of North America.
So how did the Falcated Duck, or Teal, get to California? Could be it flew across the Bering Strait and then southward. Or it could have escaped from a zoo or private collection. You can even buy Falcated Ducks over the internet from a breeder in Denver, so this loner could be an escapee. Who knows? There have been a number of cases of birds escaping or being released in California, especially parrot types. The famous Red-masked Parrots of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco were an intentional or accidental introduction. I have seen several parrots in the wild in California that were previously caged. (If your parrot escapes, you can call 911 Parrot Alert. A stork escaped from the Sacramento Zoo a number of years ago and caused some excitement. Last July a Cassowary escaped from the Denver Zoo and the Red-whiskered Bulbul population of southern Florida descended from a 1960 escape. And the lowlands of Hawaii are virtually inundated with introduced non-native species such as Japanese White-eyes and Mynahs. And who knows how many parrots, parakeets, cockatiels, and canaries have flown out front doors? When I was a kid sitting on my front porch, a parakeet landed on my head – clearly a lost soul from some other house. I also had an American Kestrel land on my head a few years ago – it clearly escaped from someone who was keeping it illegally.
So it is not all that unusual to find an exotic bird in the wild, but it does provide a little novelty for birdwatchers. Falcated, by the way, means sword-like, referring to the curved tertian feathers of the bird.