Rare bird is sighted in Jerusalem

Jerusalem Bird Observatory co-director says the occasion is a "mega-rarity."

bird 88 (photo credit: )
bird 88
(photo credit: )
Flying north for its annual fall return to the colder regions of the northern hemisphere, an eyebrowed thrush took a wrong turn and found itself in Jerusalem at 6 am on Sunday. The thrush was identified at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory of the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel's Urban Wildlife Site by head ringer Shay Agmon. "This is a mega-rarity," said Amir Balaban, co-director of the observatory, which is located near the Knesset in Givat Ram. It was the second time an eyebrowed thrush (turdus obscurus) had been seen in Israel. The first sighting was in Eilat in 1996, and Balaban doubted the bird would be seen in Israel again in his lifetime. The eyebrowed thrush is not an endangered species in its preferred cold habitats. It is commonly found in the Indian subcontinent, East Asia, Siberia and the taiga (coniferous forests) of the far north, but is rare in the Middle East, Western Europe and the United States. "It probably joined local song thrushes when it got lost," said Balaban. Song thrushes are common winter birds in Israel. Though similar, song thrushes are a "duller version" of the eyebrowed thrush, which is "known for its bluish-gray back and chest, lemon-colored lower mandible, smooth ochre-chestnut upper chest and belly and its trademark beautiful white eyebrow," Balaban said. Netted at the observatory's Bird Monitoring Station, the thrush was trapped, banded, measured, weighed and promptly released. The eyebrowed thrush will face many dangers on its journey, including "feral cats of the Middle East, hunters and lots of uncontrolled pesticides." "We crossed our fingers and hope for its safe return," said Balaban. "It will have to be a very lucky bird." Aside from being a thrill for Israel's birders, 25 of whom "jumped out of bed at the Rare Bird Alert" sent out Sunday morning, the eyebrowed thrush's presence signals success on the part of the Society for the Preservation of Nature. "The appearance of rare birds is an important indicator of [the] quality of an urban wildlife site," said Balaban. "It proves that if we preserve important bird areas in the city, they will be used by both common birds and rare ones."