Hundreds flock to Maryland park to view 'exceptional' rare bird

Oliver Milman

Hundreds of people have flocked to the Washington DC area to catch a glimpse of a new, celebrated arrival who has offered some welcome relief following a bruising year. No, it’s not Joe Biden.

Excited birders have crammed into a Maryland park, braving rain and dismally low temperatures, to witness the painted bunting, a brightly coloured bird that usually reserves its elan for the warmer climes of Florida.

Related: A wing and a prayer: how birds are coping with the climate crisis

Word spread of the bird’s presence after a posting on the eBird website, causing a surge of visitors to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, found on a bend of the Potomac River, a short journey north-west of Washington. On Saturday, more than 80 cars were still in line to get into the park shortly before its sundown closure, the Washington Post reported.

The birders included Jacques Pitteloud, whose day job is Switzerland’s ambassador to the US. “To see it close to DC, that was absolutely unrealistic,” Pitteloud, who has been birdwatching since he was a young boy, told the Post. The painted bunting was “exceptional”, he added.

The unusual avian arrival is highly distinctive, with its brilliant blue head, red belly and flashes of green and red on its back. The bird spotted in the park was a male – the females are a more uniform green colour.

Painted buntings are about 5in in length, dine on seeds and insects and prefer to construct nests in dense foliage. The species is also one that is having its preferred conditions warped by the climate crisis, according to Audubon, with rising global temperatures causing changes in the range of the painted bunting along with other species such as the western bluebird, American goldfinch and spotted towhee.

Species in various countries are now being pushed north as conditions heat up, with researchers warning last year that two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extinction due to the climate crisis. “Climate change is disrupting hundreds of bird species, and thanks to community scientists all across the country, we can visualize these disruptions in real time and plan conservation efforts accordingly,” said Sarah Saunders, a quantitative ecologist at Audubon.

But, for now, people near Washington can at least enjoy the presence of a flamboyant arrival that is set to become the latest winged celebrity following Barry the barred owl and the “hot duck”, both found in New York City’s Central Park. “While it’s not a good sign for climate change, a painted bunting, one of my favorite birds, being in our nearby park brings me joy!” tweeted Margaret Johnson, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.