Bird watchers young and old alike descended on Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park after hearing a bird sighting. A painted sparrow – a colorful bird most commonly found in Florida – had been spotted there. The bird that brightened up a gray day at the end of a tough year is the size and shape of a sparrow, but with a color palette that seems to have been swept away by the jungle macaw.
“I think that’s a sign,” said avid bird watcher Jacques Pitteloud, who was part of the crowd of enthusiasts gathered on the Maryland side of the Potomac River with their binoculars and telescoping lenses.
Pitteloud is also the Swiss Ambassador to the United States.
“You know, a painted bunting is a beautiful bird. It is a sign of beauty… the beauty of nature. It has bright colors after a pretty gray year, ”he says. As it happens host Carol Off.
Pitteloud, who has been birding since he was a child when his parents gave him a guide, said seeing the painted sparrow is a pleasure for any bird watcher. But it is also one of the birds that European enthusiasts most hope to see when they travel to southern North America.
“He has a bright yellow, an extraordinary green, a blue head and a red belly. I mean, it’s a combination of colors that you don’t usually expect in the north, and it makes for a very surprising sight, ”he said.
“This bird really looks like it was more or less painted by a surrealist painter, and you wouldn’t expect a bird to survive in nature with such vivid colors. ”
But the painted honeycomb is exceptionally good at prowling – out of sight of predators – and that’s what makes it hard to spot despite its primary-colored feathers.
The word is spreading quickly among bird watchers. The sighting was noted on the ebird website last week and on Saturday there were 1,100 visitors to the park, double the normal amount.
The climate connection
Unfortunately, the bird’s rare flight in this far north may be linked to warming temperatures.
“We don’t know exactly what the reasons are this year; we have had some really exceptional birds in the Washington area. It could also be special winds this year. The winds were a little different, but there is no doubt that climate change is with us, ”said Pitteloud.
He notes that in the southern region of Switzerland where he comes from, there are more and more sightings of Mediterranean birds that were never seen in the region 20 years ago.
However, sightings like this are ideal for educating birds and the threats they face.
“In general, bird watchers were very happy because it draws attention to a hobby that is intimately linked to nature conservation,” Pitteloud said.
While the pandemic has put many other activities on hiatus, bird watching has experienced a kind of renaissance, with reports of increased sales of cameras and binoculars.
Pitteloud said he sees this playing out in influential circles in Washington as well.
“There is a very interesting aspect about ornithology and bird watching. You meet extremely interesting people. You would be surprised at the kind of people you meet around birding in Washington – very high profile people, ”he said.
“I mean, bird watching is the new golf course. And it’s much better for nature because golf courses are deserts, ecologically speaking, and you have to pay the fees to be a member. And here you just go into the woods and meet extremely interesting people. ”
Looking to the future, Pitteloud said he was optimistic the bird could announce some sort of cloud separation that defined the 2020 struggles.
“Really hope 2021 will look like the painted bunting. ”
Written by Brandie Weikle. Interview conducted by Jeanne Armstrong.