Arrival of South American species stuns Canadian birders


Two potential firsts for Canada have been found in Quebec in recent days, with both species heralding from South America.

The first of these, a Lesson's Seedeater, was discovered at Pointe-aux-Outardes, some 320 km north-east of Quebec City, on 24 October. A potential first for the entire American Birding Association (ABA) recording area if accepted, Lesson's Seedeater is a migratory species that breeds in the Boreal summer in northern South America, between Brazil and Colombia, and winters throughout Amazonia south to Bolivia.

Although previously unrecorded in the ABA Area, Lesson's Seedeater may move up to 2,000 km between its breeding and wintering ranges. With the Quebec bird around 2,500 km north of its northernmost breeding locations, the distance involved is not outlandish for a wild bird, although the possibility of an escape may block the path to acceptance.

However, the seedeater's credentials have been given a boost by the subsequent appearance of an apparent Small-billed Elaenia 140 km to the south-west, at the migration hot-spot of Tadoussac. The bird was trapped and ringed there on the morning of 26 October and initially identified as a White-crested Elaenia, itself an extremely rare visitor to the ABA Area, but the more rounded headshape, broken white wingbars and apparent third 'wingbar' (little more than a few white spots on the lesser coverts) all suggest Small-billed. A feather was taken for DNA analysis, which should confirm the bird to species level.

Small-billed Elaenia is a migratory species that breeds from Bolivia south to Chile, Uruguay and northern Argentina, and spends the Boreal summer on its non-breeding grounds north to northern Colombia and Venezuela. It does not currently form part of the ABA list, although there is a previous record, as yet unaccepted, of an apparent Small-billed from Chicago, Illinois, in April 2012. On the other hand if the bird proves to be White-crested, another migratory South American species, this would also represent a first for Canada.

Meanwhile, a Groove-billed Ani was discovered in Ontario on 25 October. There are a handful of previous Canadian records of this largely resident species, which breeds in South and Central America north to Mexico and southern Texas, most of which have fallen in October.