Sometimes backyard bird enthusiasts spot birds the field guides say should not be seen in Georgia during the winter. If you see such a bird, what should you do?
The worst thing you can do is assume you have misidentified the bird. Even though the odds of seeing such a bird are slim, it is always possible a bird that should be wintering in the Caribbean Islands, Central or South America remained behind.
Since your sighting might be a new state seasonal record, you should document your sighting. With that in mind, try to photograph of the bird. Far too often folks try to take a picture through a window. In most cases, such photos are not focus. However, you can enhance your chances of taking a crisp photo of the bird by placing the lens of your camera up against the window glass. In many cases, whether or not a bird sighting is accepted is based on photographic evidence.
Also, make detailed notes of the sighting. Record arrival and departure dates, behavior, food eaten, and the like. Also, record the bird’s plumage pattern and colors, as well as its bill characteristics. If possible, also make a sketch of the bird. It is also important to record or describe any vocalizations.
Here is a short list of some of the birds that need to be documented when seen in winter.
The sighting of any thrush other than the hermit thrush needs to be verified. Very few winter records of other thrushes have been accepted for states east of the Mississippi River.
In spite of the fact there have been a number of winter sightings of the eastern wood pewee have been received, none have ever been accepted by state record committees.
The Georgia Ornithological Society has never accepted any winter sightings of Epidonax flycatchers (e.g. Acadian, yellow-bellied, and least). If you find what you believe is one of these small flycatchers, your sighting will only be confirmed if you hear the bird calling.
Several years ago, I was a member of a group of birders participating in the Lake Blackshear Christmas Bird Count that found what we were certain was an Epidonax flycatcher. Our sighting was not affirmed because the bird remained silent.
Although eastern kingbirds are common summer residents in the Peach State, there is only one accepted winter sighting of the bird in North America.
Years ago, an eastern kingbird was reported on the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area. Sadly, the two folks that spotted the bird did not take a picture of this rare winter resident. Consequently, this remarkable sighting was turned down.
In spite of the fact that yellow-throated vireos occasionally winter in south Florida, to date, nobody that has seen this bird in winter has provided enough corroborating evidence to have this species listed as a winter resident in Georgia.
I hope that you will be lucky enough to have a truly rare bird magically appear in your backyard this winter. If you do, make every effort to document your sighting. Your sighting might rewrite the record book.