South Florida birders are going crazy over the recent spottings of pin-tailed whydahs. The exotic, showy bird is native to Sub-Saharan Africa. So what is it doing in Florida?
Although the gorgeous songbird is an impressive sight to behold, the whydah is considered parasitic and could spell trouble for the sunshine state’s native bird population.
The pin-tailed whydah has an intense orange beak and a long, long black tail which naturally appears on males during mating season, then sheds. The females look similar to large sparrows.
Speaking of mating, the whydah is notorious for its elaborate mating ritual. The male birds hover over the females, flapping their wings emphatically while constantly singing. The performance has become a YouTube favorite.
The cause of the birders’ concern stems from the fact that whydahs are parasitic, meaning that they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and leave their hatchlings to be raised by pseudo parents. The whydah babies are usually bigger and noisier than the native birds and often take the resources meant for the nest-building birds.
The nesting pattern can crowd out the native birds over time, causing a shift in population and upsetting the delicate balance of the bird kingdom.
Since whydahs have no natural reason to be in South Florida, experts have a few ideas on why they have been spotted recently.
- Hurricane Irma could have blown the birds over from Puerto Rico, where they are abundant
- An aviary could have been damaged in the storms, allowing the birds to escape
- Residents could have purchased the birds as pets online (they sell for less than $100)
Prior to at least three confirmed sightings in September, the last reported sighting in Miami-Dade was in the 1980s.