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US Bird Watchers Flock to See New Species


Bird watchers are flocking to a state park in the southeastern United States to view a species discovered for the first time on U.S. soil. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that experts believe the Loggerhead Kingbird may have arrived from Cuba.

South Florida is home to immigrants from across Latin America and other parts of the world. It also hosts scores of non-native animals and plants that have arrived in various ways over the years.

The latest arrival is the Loggerhead Kingbird, a small insect-eating bird that is native to parts of the Caribbean. A retiree first spotted the gray-and-black bird at a state park in the Florida Keys last week, and since then bird watchers have been flocking to the area to view it.

Andy Kratter, collection manager of ornithology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, has been monitoring the developments.

"It was photographed right away and distributed on the web," said Andy Kratter. "It's definitely a Loggerhead kingbird, and this is the first record for the United States, and for north America, outside of Cuba. Cuba is where it's from. It's also found in the Bahamas and the West Indies."

Kratter says most new bird sightings in the country take place in relatively remote areas, such as Alaska. He says Florida sees one or two such discoveries each year.

At the Fort Zachary Taylor state park, the sighting has increased visitor activity, drawing bird watchers from more than 20 U.S. states. Park manager Mark Knapke says most can only speculate at how it arrived in Florida.

"We're only 90 miles from Cuba," said Mark Knapke. "Some of the birders [bird watchers] have told me it's kind of a tenacious little bird, [with] a blue jay attitude. And it may have just been sitting along the shore of Cuba and said, 'hey, I wonder what's over there,' and headed across the seas."

Knapke says the park is popular for migratory birds who visit during the winter and return home. Many non-native species that arrive to Florida, however, do not return home.

The state has one of the highest non-native animal populations in the country, says Art Roybal, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We've estimated there's 26 percent of the fauna are non-native, and a lot of that is due to the sub-tropical climate of Florida," said Art Roybal. "Also the major ports of entry, pet trade, aquarium and ornamental plant industries have contributed to some releases of some non-natives."

Roybal says wildlife agencies struggle to control such species once established, because they can damage the environment. Non-native animals like the Burmese python and some South American toads are key threats because they have few, if any, natural predators in the area.

The discovery of the Loggerhead Kingbird, however, raises no such concerns to Florida's ecosystem. In fact, Andy Kratter says the Kingbird faces greater dangers here than at home.

"The Kingbird is not in its usual place, so it doesn't know the predators very well," he said. "The short-tailed hawk doesn't occur in Cuba, so that's a new predator. It doesn't have that profile for trying to detect it."

Experts say they are unsure what will happen to the Kingbird, whether he will eventually return home or disappear from view. Until then, bird watchers are expected to continue to flock to this rare sighting.

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